After all the decades, all the books and documentaries, is there anything new to discover about the alchemy that created The Beatles and their place in pop culture?
Not really. Throwing Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and the endless BBC and AppleCorps archives at “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” produces more warm nostalgia, but nothing of the “startling revelation” variety.
The hook, here was how they sounded live, here was how they got that good and here was why they quit touring, has been extensively covered in such docs as “The Beatles Anthology.”
But a lot of the footage is fresh and Howard weaves an engaging overview of their history, with anecdotes, vintage interviews and enough tidbits from surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and some of those who toured with them or saw them live to keep it fun.
Here’s Ringo scrambling, pretty much on his own, to turn his improperly positioned drum kit and riser around on a stage, in the midst of the utter bedlam of shrieking teenage girls. The audiences got so loud he could only keep track of where they were in songs by knowing the posture, gestures and moves of George Harrison by heart.
There’s young Sigourney Weaver, in black and white home movies, at an American tour date in the mid-60s, and here’s Whoopi Goldberg getting choked up at her mother, saving up and surprising her with a trip the famous Shea Stadium show.
A favorite moment? The vast crowd at a Liverpool football (soccer) game, almost entirely men, young and old, singing “She Loves You,” in mid-match in black and white footage from the early ’60s. This city embraced their boys, whole-heartedly.
Ringo talking about “the incredible pressure” of performing in America and McCartney remembering their fear of coming over and failing and what that would mean “back home” isn’t new. But Brit comic Eddie Izzard dissecting their cheeky wit and its anti-establishment (adult) appeal to kids, screenwriter Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) confessing that he’s spent his entire career trying to create ensembles with the comical/witty/familial feel of the band’s press conferences, is.
There’s even a villain, if you can call him that. Howard makes extensive use of Miami radio reporter Larry Kane, who rode and flew with The Fabs on tour during one of the most news-packed years (1964) in history, resenting the assignment, at least at first.
Kane’s recollections, and clips of interviews with the band at the time, talk about their first real exercise of cultural power in America, their insistence that Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl not be segregated for their show, which brought down barriers all over the South, is “The Touring Years'” most pointed remembrance.
Kane himself? Affable, professional, and you can’t help but hate him. I mean, the guy got to hang out with the biggest band ever on the most epochal tour in pop music history. The lucky bastard.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with incessant smoking, profanity, drug use discussed
Cast: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, George Martin, Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall, Richard Curtis, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, Larry Kane, Richard Lester, Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver
Credits: Directed by Ron Howard, script by Mark Monroe. An ApplesCorps release.
Running time: 2:17