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

Pretty good, as these things go. Another Beatles documentary is, to a fan, another collection of clips and interviews we've seen umpteen times before. There's some new material here, to be sure, but it stands primarily as curated moments edited differently than, say, the Anthology, and driven by a more focused narrative than other Beatles docs. There's a slight sense that Howard gets especially interested in the material once his central narrative of "the touring years" is over. When we arrive at Sgt. Pepper, there's an energy in the images (and how they're presented) missing from much of the earlier material. It's like Eight Days a Week is a prequel to the larger project. (Or maybe I'm imposing my preference for late-period Beatles onto the film.)

Imagine if, in No Direction Home, Scorsese structured the film in a more linear manner, waiting until the end to show any footage of the climactic electric concert and then concluding just as things got interesting. Instead, he peppered the buildup within that performance throughout Dylan's early acoustic period, resulting in intercut macro-/micro-storytelling that's more compelling than this straightforward approach. Howard still does better than the Anthology, that Beatles-commissioned series of clips and interviews that cuts away from a given topic just as it gets interesting.

The thing is, the Beatles were really interesting people and produced a fascinating phenomenon. They were artists who, this doc wants us to know, pushed the envelope by enlisting the avant-garde into their innovation of pop music. So how great would it be for a documentary to get experimental on the Beatles? Documentary form can arguably get away with being radical more than fiction-film form. Instead, this plays it safe, by the book, in a word: "Ron Howard."

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