Despite only recording music for eight years, The Beatles still live on in popular culture and on countless “Best of All Time” lists 46 years after their break-up. This relevance is due in large part to “Beatlemania,” a period of international infatuation with the band covering the first four years of their tenure.
Ron Howard, director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, also directed Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years, a documentary that looks at these four years and gives a timeline of the rise of Beatlemania. Circle Cinema had a special showing of the film last Thursday night.
The event began with Beatles trivia hosted by Circle Cinema board member Steve Higgins. Willing participants were given tickets while entering the theater, and called at random to stand and attempt to answer the questions.
The questions were surprisingly difficult, although there were a couple people who managed to get the question right by guessing. Those dedicated enough to know things like the first Beatles LP to have identical tracklists in the UK and US and the day/city/venue of the last tour show the band ever played were rewarded with a mono vinyl of a Beatles LP.
Trivia was followed by an opening address by Tulsa-born rock artist Dwight Twilley. Twilley described seeing The Beatles when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and how different they were compared to other “combos” that were playing at the time. He remembers being refreshed by their presentation and professionalism, and described them as “four Elvises on the stage together.”
The last thing before the film began was a special message from Ron Howard recorded at Abbey Road Studios, specifically for the showing at Circle Cinema. The Edmond-born director reflected on his childhood in Oklahoma, how The Beatles left a lasting effect on him and thanked viewers for coming to see the film.
After about 30 minutes of trivia and intros, the movie began. From the group’s early appearances at Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final tour show in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the film gives a thorough and detailed account of the band’s opinions, actions and popularity.
The documentary does a good job of presenting the band as real people, though the film is an almost exclusively positive depiction of the band. When answering questions, performing and even waving to the crowds outside their hotels, it’s easy to tell that The Beatles loved being The Beatles. Interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as archived interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison, show that all four members remember the days fondly, although they all eventually felt burnt out on the road.
The documentary does an excellent job showing the development of this apathy by placing The Beatles in the larger cultural context of the 1960s. The film looks at events like the band refusing to allow segregation at their concerts and John Lennon’s controversial “we’re more popular than Jesus” comment and shows how they affected the group and the popular culture built around them. Lennon’s comment, in particular, lead to protests and record burnings across the US. This was a significant factor in the band’s dissatisfaction with touring that led them to quit playing live in 1966.
The documentary essentially ends after their last show, though there is some text at the end to wrap up the band’s tenure and footage of their 1969 show on a rooftop in London during the credits. Ending at this point leaves out the most experimental and critically acclaimed section of the band’s discography, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, but Howard’s decision to focus on their tours meant that 1966 was the best place to stop.
After the documentary was 30 minutes of The Beatles’ 1965 concert at Shea Stadium, in which the band played to over 55,000 people. The video and audio from the show were remastered for the documentary, sounding excellent and looking great with the exception of some close-up shots.
Between the trivia, introductions, documentary and concert, the whole event took almost three hours. It never felt like it was dragging on, surprisingly. Of course, as a longtime fan of the band, I was very happy to watch footage of their performances and learn a bit more about an aspect of the band I’d never taken the time to look into.
The event felt very much like it was coordinated by fans, for fans. For people with a passing interest in The Beatles, three hours may have felt a bit much. Perhaps just the ~100 minute documentary and 30 minute concert segment would suffice. The concert is after the credits of the documentary, as well, so there’s an opportunity to leave between the two if one feels inclined to.
Although it may seem a bit intimidating to people not as invested in the band, the event and the film were entertaining and gave perspective on one of the most important figures in rock history.