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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ron Howard’s Beatles doc entertains fans but offers little new information

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 10:48 AM

  • Photo by Bob Bonis via
Director Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary is playing the Enzian Theater in Maitland for just three days (Thursday through Saturday), all of which are sold out, before hitting Hulu. But don't worry too much about missing it on the big screen – though it will bring a smile to fans’ faces and serve as a nice Beatle introduction for those who have been living under a rock for 50 years (or haven't been alive that long), it doesn’t add anything substantial to the already enormous body of Beatle literature, music and cinema.

For his second foray into documentary filmmaking (following 2013’s Made in America), the legendary director has chosen an even more legendary subject. And with a little luck – in the form of some newly discovered and newly remastered concert footage – Howard has fashioned an enjoyable if not particularly focused or revelatory film.

With the title The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, you’d expect the doc to focus just on the group’s live performances. Indeed, most of the hype surrounding the film led us to believe this would be the definitive look at Beatle concerts. It is not. Though the performance of "I Saw Her Standing There" in Washington, D.C., in 1964 will give you goosebumps, and the inclusion of a digitally remastered film of virtually the entire Shea Stadium concert from 1965 is probably worth the price of admission by itself, the film is lacking in focus and new insight.

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Too often it meanders away from the Beatles’ concert life and into areas it has neither the time nor, seemingly, the expertise to fully address, such as songwriting and album releases. This means essential touring information is left out.

For instance, there is almost no discussion of Hamburg, though, admittedly, most of the Hamburg shows took place before 1962, which the doc seems to pick as its start date. Perhaps that might explain why we never hear the names Pete Best or Stuart Sutcliffe, but it doesn’t explain why we never learn what a typical Beatles set list looked like or why we never get a geographical description of each tour. (That latter detail could have been easily shown with, oh, perhaps – a map!?) The doc instead prefers to interview celebrities such as Eddie Izzard and Sigourney Weaver. Yes, we do get new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and old interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. But why am I supposed to care what Whoopi Goldberg was doing in 1964?

For all its shortcomings, the doc is still difficult to resist. Highlights include a great chat with journalist Larry Kane, who traveled with the Beatles during their 1964 and 1965 American tours, and an explanation of how the group fought segregation at their Jacksonville show. Even more memorable is the discussion of the final, nightmarish 1966 excursion, right down to the revelation that one guy’s main job at the rain-drenched St. Louis gig was to unplug the electrical equipment if one of the Beatles slipped on the wet stage. (If he failed, electrocution was imminent.)

Filmmakers who create Beatle docs have it both easy and hard. All they have to do is throw musical footage at the screen and their film is immediately entertaining. Yet to make a truly important film, they must present something new. And with endless Beatles media saturating the market, that’s virtually impossible. Other recent docs haven’t always succeeded either, but Good Ol’ Freda felt more original (thought it suffered from too little Beatle music) and Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World was more substantial. Still, Howard’s doc is occasionally mature and patient enough to simply sit back and let the Beatles themselves prove to modern audiences why they were the best live band of their era and perhaps all time.

If you want to experience the full Shea Stadium concert footage, get on the Enzian stand-by list now. In Scouse slang, the film might not be truly fab, but it’s still plenty gear.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland

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