Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years
Feature film review by Shawn Perry
Depending on whom you ask or which book you’ve read, the title for the Beatles song “Eight Days A Week” is attributed to either Ringo Starr or a chauffeur who drove Paul McCartney over to John Lennon’s house. Regardless of who coined the phrase, the meaning is pretty much the same: “Overworked.” It serves as an apt title for Ron Howard’s film about the Beatles and their tumultuous touring years — from 1963 to 1966 — when they canvassed a world caught in the grip of Beatlemania. Everyone wanted a piece of the Fab Four, but as George Harrison once said, while the fans “gave their money and their screams,” the Beatles “gave their nervous systems" on a wild and wacky runaway train to global domination.
Howard brilliantly captures the period in Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years. For context, the back-story leading to the band’s explosive rise gets a fair shake. Here is where observant fans will invariably note some similarities to 1995’s Anthology series. However, once Howard narrows his focus on how the Fabs dealt with the rigors of traveling, playing before screaming, rabid fans, and curtailing the madness that shadowed their every move, the tale takes on a life of its own.
There's loads of rare footage, some of which hasn't been seen by the masses. One classic interview clip has Lennon chatting away while Harrison flicks cigarette ashes on his head (yes, they all smoked back then and the ashes are probably up for bid on Ebay). Some of the not-so-rare footage has been cleaned up, and in some instances, colorized (specifically, the first U.S. press conference at JFK Airport and snippets from the Washington D.C. concert on February 11, 1964). Lighthearted moments include Lennon telling a naive reporter his name is "Eric"; one fan remarking that Ringo Starr “has a sexy nose," followed by another adding that George Harrison “has sexy eye lashes"; and soccer fans singing "She Loves You."
On the flipside, the Beatles were dogged by various controversies that contributed to their decision to stop touring, and the film touches on this as well. There’s the time certain southern cities in the U.S. wanted to segregate their concerts, but the Beatles took a stance — "We actually forced them…to integrate. We even put it in the contract," McCartney says — a bold move in the midst of the civil rights movement. There were protests in Tokyo against the Beatles for being the first musical group to play the Budokan, a sacred venue for martial arts exhibitions. In the Philippines, they “snubbed” First Lady Imelda Marcos’ invitation for breakfast, eliciting a hostile reaction from fans and authorities, alike. They escaped the country with their lives. And then there was the seemingly innocent comment from John Lennon about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. Two weeks after Lennon apologized for making the blasphemous remark, the Beatles stopped touring for good.
As the film reveals, there were other contributing factors to the group’s decision to abandon the road. It meant more time could be spent on songwriting and recording. They started families and experimented with LSD (thankfully, not at the same time). As Howard scrolls through the albums made after the tours ended — Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be — we’re taken to the rooftop of Apple’s offices at 3 Savile Row in London where the Beatles played a final impromptu concert for friends, associates, policeman and annoyed businessman on the street below. It marked the end of an era.
Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years features new interviews with McCartney and Starr, as well as Larry Kane, a journalist who traveled with the band in 1964 and 1965, and Richard Lester, who directed the first two Beatle movies, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Additional interviews with “celebrity” fans like Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver do little to boost the flow, but certainly illustrate how deep and wide the appeal of the band was and continues to be. Could a second film on the studio years be in the works? That’s anyone’s guess. For now, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years, released in tandem with a spruced-up remaster of 1977’s Live At The Hollywood Bowl album, does a brilliant job documenting the rise of the greatest rock and roll band in history.