The Beatles: Eight Days a Weeks – The Touring Year21 September 2016
There once incredulously existed an affliction more chronic than “Bieber Fever”. With no aversion to the risk of infection, we took a trip back in time to discover the pandemic that was Beatle Mania through Ron Howard’s new documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.
The poster presented the tag line, “The band you know. The story you don’t”. Howard invites his spectators to submerge themselves in a new, unheard of narrative about The Beatles. In reality, while the footage is newly excavated from archives around the world, it’s manufactured to represent the same stories many are familiar with (charming working-class boys rising to spectacular fame overnight) while leaving the already-initiated disappointment by the lack of revelation. Eight Days functions more like an encyclopaedia that sweeps past The Beatles’ earlier successful years of 1963 to 1967 – when they decided to stop touring and wandered into psychedelic realms instead.
Director Ron Howard aims for his audience to experience and empathise with the repetitiveness of the band’s touring routine – which involves pushing past fans, being smart-arses at press conferences and recording new materials – but he could not quite escape the tautological doom promised of repetition. There are, indeed, efforts to distinguish stages of the tours as shown by the footages that detail escalating violence committed by fans, and rapidly-cut montages to elevate the overwhelmingness of the experience. Yet they remain formulaic to a fault – the audience is reduced to a demographic whose nostalgia Howard could exploit.
Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver takes turns to lend their first-hand experiences of the concerts, with Goldberg’s version, particularly emphasising the unity The Beatles’ music facilitated. She states, “They were colourless”. The documentary’s most powerful moments elevate The Beatles above their boyband persona – which Howard has thoroughly established thus far – and reveal an unwavering humanity underneath all their wits and charms. Using historians’ primary accounts of the Jacksonville concert in 1964, Eight Days sows the seed of John Lennon’s social consciousness – he was the first to refuse playing to a segregated audience. It is a seed that is never allowed to grow for harvest in the documentary. Lennon’s presence is sorely missed – his progressiveness never quite elaborated or rather restrained by the filmmakers’ dispossession of interview footage, as they do with George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
There are instances where Howard offers exciting glimpses inside The Beatles’ creative processes such as song-writing, and features the beautiful bond between Lennon and McCartney. However, he does not take the opportunity to explore the necessarily humble works of Harrison and the impact of stifling his own genius in collaborating with the dynamic duo. Where there could have been a nuanced exploration of varying influences, Howard tends to acknowledge only the surface.
The members’ individualities were never in much focus throughout the documentary. They are often referred to as a group – “the four-headed monster” as McCartney sardonically puts it. Their unity, their relationship with one another, are very much emphasised, consequently leaving families, opponents, and lovers in the dark. Howard focuses instead on the more straight-forward adoration baby-boomers paid to the Fab Four, on the band’s humour, how they wasted away days spent holed up in hotel rooms. Their decline is presented as more of a right of passage rather than an opportunity to delve into the dark and deteriorating nature of life in the limelight. Ironically, Howard puts an end to the documentary before the boys become men and get tangled in the complicated world of grown-ups. Yoko, Ringo-Maureen-George triangle, and drugs were out of the picture, Howard insists that The Beatles remain a cohesive, supportive group, allowing them little room for individuality, ambitions and controversies in his documentary.
As a fanatic, these messy human relationships and complicated associations with the world are what set The Beatles apart from the other manufactured boybands for me. If I wanted to watch concert footage intercut with celebrities’ interview on their adoration for a band, and sugar-coated narratives, I would have watched One Direction’s Reaching for the Stars. Filmmakers and their marketing team advertised the documentary as a revelation of The Beatles’ history and reduced the phenomenon to a more-overused-than-cliche promotional method (and can never quite deliver the expose promised), which is disrespectful to all parties involved.