The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years is a new documentary by Ron Howard, focusing on The Beatles’ whirlwind years spent touring all over the globe between 1962 and 1966. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so I was immediately interested in this film, even as I wondered whether this documentary would have anything new to say. I’ve been a Beatles fan all my life, and I’ve read a number of books and seen a lot of Beatles documentaries, including the extraordinarily thorough multi-part Beatles Anthology, so I’m pretty well-versed in Beatles lore. And yet I was gripped by this film from the first moment to the last. Part of this is the magic of The Beatles themselves, but it’s also a testament to the work done by Ron Howard and his team.
There is, of course, a lot of familiar, famous footage included in the film. Some of the concert footage, some of the interviews, are well-known to Beatles fans. But there is also a surprising amount of great stuff I hadn’t seen before.
What’s particularly notable about the film is the way Mr. Howard and his team focused in on the Beatles touring performances, presenting a wealth of footage chronologically so as to take us step-by-step through the Beatles’ various tours. This is a fascinating approach, and it captures for the audience a taste of the feeling of being on that insane ride.
We get to hear from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in new interviews, while John Lennon and George Harrison are represented through older interview footage. The new interviews are great, with some substantial new insight, and I was happy with the way the older footage and sound-bytes were used to make certain that John and George were represented in the film equal to Paul and Ringo.
There are also some great new interviews with famous Beatles fans, including Curtis Hanson, Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver. These aren’t just “hey look it’s a celebrity!” sound-bytes. No, these interviews were well-chosen as each of the celebrities speaking has an interesting story to tell or something substantial to contribute to the film and the chronicle of events that Mr. Howard is weaving. Some of these celebrity interview moments were, surprisingly, among my favorite moments in the film! (I don’t know how they found that shot of a young Sigourney in the crowd at one of the Beatles’ concerts, but someone deserves a raise.)
I also have to highlight the phenomenal sequence in which various snippets of studio chatter were edited together to chart the development of the song Eight Days A Week. Those were a super-cool few minutes, and a great peek into the process of this incredible foursome.
I’ll also comment on how impressed I was at the quality of the archival footage used throughout the film. There are sequences of very famous footage of the Beatles’ performances that looked way better than I’d ever seen before. Whatever they did to clean up that footage was skillfully done.
This is a film that I think will be of interest to hard-core Beatles fans and also neophytes. The story of this band’s incredible achievements, the way that they achieved worldwide fame and popularity while also flourishing creatively, is something that might never be duplicated. Mr. Howard has achieved something impressive in this foray into documentary filmmaking, putting the audience into the center of this years-long whirlwind. This one was a ton of fun.