The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years ★★★½

I had low expectations for this, both because I don't think Ron Howard is a very good director and because I seriously doubted that officially-sanctioned Beatles product could show or tell us anything new. And it doesn't, not really, but never underestimate what a pleasure it is to see a well-edited compilation of this kind of archive material, and certainly never underestimate how "fucking amazing" they were, especially this young and vibrant when they were really a band; the verbal jabs from John then and Ringo now offset Paul's over-earnestness and George (mostly in Anthology footage) being a tiresome grouch as usual*. You also can easily tell that it's been timed to the second in a phony bid at being democratic; does it satisfy anyone to have the stunning rooftop finale just consist of half of two different songs? Like the Anthology but much more so, it glosses over a lot of unpleasantness, in this case completely neglecting to mention that Pete ever existed; unlike the Anthology it barely lets a single song play uninterrupted, which is to its detriment; unlike the Anthology, it colorizes and crops footage, which is to its extreme detriment. But also unlike the Anthology it has a technically proficient filmmaker at its helm and that does make a positive difference. Will the casual fan enjoy it? Yes, and they'll be left wanting a lot more, especially since the included numbers handily give the lie to the Beatles-were-terrible-live myth. (Recommendations: most of the UK performances from '63 that circulate, second night at Budokan, and of course the Star Club tapes.) What of the hardcore fan? Less so, but you wouldn't be a hardcore fan if you didn't just dig being in the band's presence and listening to them -- and there are one or two bits of footage here I didn't remember seeing, plus the opportunity for the informed Lewisohn reader to laugh heartily at the snapshot of Allan Williams' van being loaded onto the ferry full of the band's equipment, knowing how scared they all were that it was going to collapse. And man, it's always so much fun to chat with Ringo.

I was quite pleased that Howard sought out Kitty Oliver as an interviewee to complement Larry Kane's stories of the Beatles' opposition to the rumor of segregation at several venues -- and that he took care not to isolate the band's phenomenal popularity from the troubled world at large at the time -- but the drawing of some connection to the explosion of soul on the radio in 1964-65 would have been nice, and I have to say I was disappointed he didn't use that as a launching point for some talk of how open the Beatles were about their debt to black music. I don't know if Little Richard is in good enough health to be interviewed anymore but his own enthusiastic perspective on the band -- they opened for him just before their stratospheric rise began -- would have added a musical component to the social one, and it's disappointing that you have to crane your neck to see Billy Preston, the only outside musician to get equal billing on a Beatles single, not a small gesture, on the keys in the closing credits. You could really make an entire film dedicated to Oliver and Whoopi Goldberg's point about the Beatles as an almost universalist entity, not because they were above or apart from race but because like so many other white rock & roll performers they drew nearly exclusively on black influences yet, unusually, never stopped acknowledging it or heavily promoting their favorites from the Shirelles to Marvin Gaye, and didn't close themselves off into a feedback loop with other white British bands. To this day Paul McCartney maintains enough of an ear to interpolate Rae Sremmurd on social media and collaborate with Kanye West without looking like an out of touch oaf, which makes me respect him so much more than supposedly edgier peers from Roger Daltrey to, gulp, Ray Davies; to this day a wonderful band like the National can scoff in an interview when someone asks them about hip hop, and somehow they don't realize how disappointing that is for their fans to hear.

The best documentary about the group is still The Compleat Beatles, which has now become nearly impossible to see -- it's the only one with a really full sense of the cultural context in which they blossomed, especially in England -- but this will do in a pinch, and it did manage the unfathomable achievement of making me want to watch Let It Be again. Christ, they sounded good on that roof. Just if nothing else let's have a complete release of the footage of that afternoon... plus Washington Coliseum, and Budokan, and Shea, and, and, and...

* said with love

Nathan liked this review