THE WORLD NEEDS a new Beatles documentary like it needs another garbage gyre in the Pacific Ocean, but The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years plays it smart by selecting a single lane of the Fab Four’s sprawling saga and following it from start to finish. Director Ron Howard’s slick but enjoyable movie focuses on the group solely as a touring and performing entity during the Beatlemania years of the early and mid 1960s. It didn’t take long for John, Paul, George, and Ringo to become fed up with live performances, and the Beatles had switched to a recording-studio-only entity by the release of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Eight Days a Week focuses on the preceding years, when the group was shuttled from city to city, usually with pandemonium ensuing just outside the limousine windows. It was an era of 20-minute sets in rickety English cinemas and cavernous American sports stadiums—and much of the time the music was completely unheard beneath the deafening shrieks of the fans.
There’s nothing in Eight Days a Week that Beatles devotees don’t already know chapter and verse, and most of the live footage has been seen elsewhere. But it’s never looked or sounded as good as it does here—a spruced-up version of their Live at the Hollywood Bowl album accompanies the film’s release—and Eight Days’ best feat is diagramming how the Beatles’ insane popularity eventually destroyed them as a live unit. The crowds were too big, the PA systems too weak, and the schedules too grueling. And the unrest in the United States during the ’60s made the Beatles targets, particularly when they refused to segregate the audience at a 1964 Jacksonville, Florida, show and during the “bigger than Jesus” uproar of 1966 that saw Beatles records burned by the thousands.
Still, the hagiography is not too overwhelming, and maybe this goes without saying, but these guys were a lot of fucking fun to watch in those days, both on and off the stage. Eight Days a Week is a well-drawn reminder that nothing gold—or platinum—can stay, not even the biggest band in the world.