The Beatles were the biggest pop band in the world back in 1963 when they first burst onto the scene, and continued to be so until they split up in 1970, with very few coming close to their mixture of mass appeal and innovative, groundbreaking music, and nobody managing to sustain it over such a wide variety of songs. Combine that with their sense of humour so keenly deployed in interviews when everyone wanted to hear about what they had to say, and they finally blew away those post-war cobwebs and gave the planet something to be thankful for after the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy and the rest of the turmoil of the sixties. This documentary focuses on what happened when they brought their songs to the people, in person...
If none of the above sounds like an original take on The Beatles, then that was not particularly what director Ron Howard's film on them was about, it was more like a primer for those who were not around at the time and a memory-jogger for those who were. The definitive account of the band had been the Beatles: Anthology, which had been broadcast on television in the nineties and available on home video thereafter, so Eight Days a Week couldn't help but look like anything but a condensed version of that, and even then it just covered the years from them starting off playing gigs in Liverpool and Hamburg to them packing in the touring after the Candlestick Park concert in the mid-sixties.
With that in mind, it was pleasing how much they did manage to cram into just over an hour and a half, including some new interviews. Obviously John Lennon and George Harrison had to be represented by their archive footage, but Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were present and correct to reminisce for the umpteenth time about something only four people on the planet have ever experienced, or ever will: what it was like to be a Beatle. Added to that were included chats with celebrities like Elvis Costello, Richard Curtis and Eddie Izzard, along with fans of the time like Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver who attended a concert - the production found a clip of Weaver in the crowd, looking appropriately excited.
It was a credit to Howard and his team that while this was very much covering old ground, often at what seemed like the hundredth iteration, they did conjure up something that felt fresh. Certainly they raced through the history, but still found time to allow the occasional performance play out in full, allowing us to marvel as Costello points out that they were able to keep in time and deliver the tune when really they could not hear one another over the screaming of the girls in the audience. You can see why that would begin to wear thin when the band realised they were just showing up to be shrieked at with full volume, rather than an appreciative crowd wanting to listen to them play, and the film deftly puts across that hysteria, there's no other word for it, that followed them about wherever they appeared.
Over and over you are reminded of the tumult of the sixties, where political leaders were being assassinated, wars were breaking out, one side of the world was rebelling against the other side, and pop culture had, incredibly, taken over as the overriding force of self-expression, leading to a generation gap, tribalism, yet also a bringing together of people from all walks of life that would never have happened before. This being an American-British co-production, the former nation was emphasised as much as the latter, but this was justified when they explained how The Beatles cut through barriers of segregation, for example, as they belonged to everyone no matter their background: the power of music. There was also room for the personal, though perhaps not too much - there were no huge revelations here, if indeed there were any left by this stage - and the sense of a family the four band members created for each other, supportive and necessary in amidst this madness, was well observed. Not for the experts, then, but if you just wanted a clear reminder of why The Beatles revolutionised the entire globe, it was perfectly enjoyable (unnecessary Colorization aside).