The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Doc. 2016) Ron Howard
Hulu streaming (1:45)
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week is still in theaters, but you can now stream it exclusively on Hulu, which I did tonight. If you’ve been a Beatles fan for decades (like me), you probably think you’ve already seen it all. Some experts have guessed that hardcore fans have already seen at least 90% of the footage in the new documentary, but you know we’re going to watch for that 10%. (Heck, I’d watch for 1%.)
Eight Days a Week focuses on the touring, which might seem like an exercise in futility, but the producers and audio engineers have done a stellar job of bringing out the music, pulling it from waves and waves of crying and screaming (no small feat). You can actually hear the music now and surprisingly, it’s very, very good. In a 21st century world of monitors, mixers and digital control, we often forget that most of the time the Beatles had practically no way to hear themselves. (Ringo even mentions that he often couldn’t hear a thing and frequently had to watch the other three as their butts moved up and down to the music.)
Visually we get some treats as well. Much of the video still looks raw, but other clips look as if they’ve been remastered or restored. Some neat tricks appear in some of the stills, which sometimes show one or more of the Beatles smoking with animated smoke appearing from the stills. Generally the video is excellent.
One aspect of the Beatles that’s always struck me is how fast things changed musically and we see some of that here. Today we tend to think that technology changes fast (which it does), but musically these guys were breaking barriers with each new release and their track record of not just good but great songs remains remarkable.
Director Ron Howard frequently shows us each album as it was released and indicates the weeks spent at #1. (We don’t know if this is from the UK charts, the U.S. charts, or a combination of both.) What’s interesting is that as the tours progress and things get crazier onstage, their albums spend less time at the top of the charts. Of course in the beginning, the Beatles were making most of their money from live performances rather than from recordings. The fact that they were able to abandon touring after being fed up with it, and were allowed to concentrate almost exclusively on recording was unprecedented. And the musical results were staggering. We’re still reeling from it.
You get the feeling that Howard’s documentary just scratches the surface of the topic of the Beatles and touring. We hear from various people who watched it happen as fans, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, and Sigourney Weaver, who we see in the audience of one show as a 14-year-old. We are also treated to recent interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (separately) as well as archival interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison.
I was eight years old when the Beatles broke up and I remember those last few years well. Eight Days a Week brings back some of that magic, much more than I thought it would, after so much time has passed. Watching the film touched me on a very personal level. If you were there, you remember what this time was like. If you weren’t, there’s really nothing you can compare it to. Nothing like this had ever happened before and it really hasn’t happened again, not on this level. It’s almost unreal. Imagine what it was like for John, Paul, George and Ringo. Now we actually can.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week will be released on Blu-ray on November 18 in two editions: a one-disc edition and a two-disc edition with over 100 minutes of special features, including five rarely-seen full-length performances.
Photos: The Arts Desk, The Beatles Eight Days a Week