Monday 19 September 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years (2016) - Movie Review

Is it even humanly possible to overstate the legacy of the Beatles? I mean, when it comes to famous musical groups, they are pretty much the golden standard by which virtually everything else is measured. Aside from setting the blueprint for every single boy band that would come after them, whether they qualified as an actual band or not, their live shows gave the world its first real taste of what Lisztomania can do to people, re: hospitalising many unfortunate teenage female fans. Outside of surface reactions, their song catalogue contains heavy volumes of songs that have permanently ingrained themselves in the public consciousness along with albums that are instantly pointed whenever the subject of "greatest albums ever" is brought up.

With a band this ubiquitous and a pedigree this immense, one would be likely to think that doing a documentary on these guys after all this time would be a tad redundant. However, considering new and interesting titbits are being uncovered as recently as 2011, when fan documentary Beatles Stories uncovered that John Lennon may not be as liberal as his demeanour and discography may have led people to believe, maybe there’s still some water left in the well. Since this particular feature was made by Ron Howard, who later on in the year will give another example of historical ignorance with the latest and hopefully last of the Dan Brown adaptations, this film has pretty much gathered all of the expectations, conflicting and all. So, how does it measure up?

The plot (such as it is): Four youngsters from Liverpool, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon, formed a band that would go on to take the world by storm. During their years on tour in the U.K., U.S. and beyond, the throngs of screaming fans kept them busy as they took to the stage to change the musical world as we know it forever. However, as the grind went on and the fans started to turn ever so slightly, they decided that maybe touring isn’t for them anymore.

With how mangled the description has become, calling this film “found footage” might be doing the film a slight disservice. Then again, Ron Howard seems to have a pretty definite idea on how he wanted to present these extremely turbulent times in the lives of the Beatles. We have a few interviewees who bring in some context, such as comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Eddie Izzard, several of the managers, journalists and roadies that tagged along for the ride and of course Paul and Ringo, the two surviving members of the band. However, more than anything else, this film is all about the archive footage. From the shenanigans backstage to the ear-splitting roar coming from the crowd during their performances, even the press conferences that showed even more of the collective mindset these four youths shared, Howard lets the past essentially speak for itself. And boy, does it have a lot to say.

While the timeline can get a tad jumbled, usually as a result of trying to go back to before they started touring to their basement gig days, the film portrays a very definite narrative with how the Beatles started out and where they ended up. Right off the bat, we see the absolute sense of humour and brotherhood that they shared, all of which makes for some very funny exchanges. The usual boy band formula goes that one would be the funny one, one would be the cute one, one would be the bad boy and one would be the Ringo; here, they are each and every one of these monikers. Rather than dividing up the cake into its separate, fan-perceived parts, these moments show just how much synergy they had with each other.

This idea of showing common ground goes for how the fans are depicted as well. Yeah, the old joke of how just saying “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles” will cause everyone to scream their heads off gets some credibility here, but we also see the hospital visits a lot of them made. Nothing more rock n’ roll than fans who will pass out and bleed in the stands during a concert; just ask GG Allin, if you have the stomach and a Ouija board for it.

But beyond just having a sly giggle at the fan base, something shared equally with their detractors during the whole "bigger than Jesus" debacle, this film shows the real sense of community that these fans had. To this end, it’s Whoopi Goldberg who is the linchpin, as her detailing of her own experiences with listening to the Beatles give this feeling that, no matter who you were, we could all scream along to these Liverpudlians. All the lonely people, where do they all belong? Right here, and they’re more than willing to have you. Growing up as I have not so much with the Beatles but with a lot of fan communities, from Doctor Who to Star Trek to Channel Awesome and YouTube, there’s a lot of truth here about the familial ties that connect fans together.

What’s more, this film details all of the major newsworthy events during those years to show exactly why people needed this kind of communion to be part of at the time. The Beatles had very fortunate timing in when and where they made their mark, and that includes the fact that their touring years cover such big events as the Civil Rights movement, JFK and the Vietnam War. Much like myself, these people probably needed something to help get away from how depressing the world can get and found it amongst the fainting horde.

Then the worldwide party starts to wear down: The Beatles were growing tired of their near-constant touring, not to mention the endless scepticism from the press about how long these boys had left. And of course, there’s Lennon’s infamous words that had people burning their LPs like some retroactive disco backlash. After all the joyousness and sense of togetherness brought on by the first half, the second deals how the Beatles dealt with the less glamorous side of their stardom. Basically, after the fun and occasionally weed-induced times wore off, they basically isolated themselves, an effect that eventually came over them as individuals as well. This is where the decision to isolate this particularly public portion of the band’s history solidifies into purpose. We see the Beatles live on stage, singing about love in its many facets because it was fun to do, but once they started experimenting with their sound starting with Rubber Soul, that’s when the backlash and fatigue began to set in. As a result, they decided to drop out of the public race and focus solely on their art in the studio.

This decision led to them making what is essentially an escapist album where they adopted new personas, allowing them to go even further in their experimentation, resulting in what we now know as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely considered to be the greatest album ever made. To compare this to something more contemporary, and bringing my innate love for hip-hop into the mix once again, indie artist Aesop Rock spent over a decade as a fringe artist with a loyal and dedicated fanbase. He then secluded himself in a cabin in the woods for months, buckling down to release The Impossible Kid, an album that not only gave him his biggest mainstream exposure but also the most in-depth look into his psyche as an artist and human being of any of his works. This notion of isolation lending to the artistic process has been shown before, just look at any of Kanye West’s more recent efforts, but rarely is it depicted with this kind of resolute poignancy that offers more of a look into the world of artistic creation as a whole.

All in all, this is a celebration of one of the greatest bands of all time during their most prominent moments in the limelight, going through their actions during and thoughts after the fact while also highlighting the fans in every possible way that they have made themselves known. I went into this expecting exposé, but walked away with elation and fascination. It’s rare that a film will aim for the already widely-publicised and come out with something this intimate and yet all-encompassing. Not a bad effort from the guy who seemed content to bore audiences to death last year with In The Heart Of The Sea.

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