The Beatles: Eight Days A Week—The Touring Years, named, of course, after the classic early Beatles song, follows the band through its four-year touring period during which it defied all standards of fame, captivating an entire generation of teenagers and inadvertently driving them mad. Footage of seemingly psychotic girls nearly dominated the film, never failing to trigger laughter, increasingly so as it became clear that these girls dominated the era as well. I wondered, based on the demographics of the film’s audience at its Cinemapolis screening, if some of the uncomfortable laughter may have been coming from audience members seeing themselves on the screen screaming, crying, and/or passed out. Images of Beatlemaniacs are not too hard to come by, but such extensive footage is. Combined with the sheer masses that emerged whenever there was a chance of seeing a Beatle from a mile away, the intense feelings people had for the lads could not have been clearer. It’s difficult to comprehend. It’s unlikely that so many people have ever been, or will ever be, so passionately united around any one cultural phenomenon. The film backs the notion that much of this madness is attributable to the charisma of the group: “There was some little magic chemistry that happened between us that seems to appeal to each generation as it comes up,” George Harrison reflects.
If you know anything about the Beatles, you probably know they stopped touring well before their breakup. Performing “A Day in the Life” live wouldn’t be doable, let alone do it justice, whereas “Twist and Shout” and “Help,” for example, evolved directly out of the shows the band had perfected in the clubs of Liverpool and Hamburg where they got their start. Their studio experimentation could not have been replicated on the stage.
Of course, it wasn’t that the Fab Four didn’t perform because their new material couldn’t be performed. Their decision to stop performing allowed for their shift away from their simpler, Buddy Holly–esque love songs, first evident in Rubber Soul (1965). Their new material was revolutionary; their themes and sound far more complex. This was also in part due to their increasing drug intake, but their increased studio time and absence of a 24/7 touring schedule (and accompanying hysterical fans) should be credited. The Beatles’ need to retreat from the crazy touring schedule and wild groupies was a necessary condition for their more creative studio work.
According to The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, it was George who introduced and pressed for the reality check that they couldn’t go on touring forever. The music wasn’t being heard. It had become a circus, a freak show starring the audience. Their venues were getting bigger and bigger, peaking at Shea Stadium in New York City in 1965 with an audience of 55,600. Thirty remarkable minutes of this show are featured following the documentary—specially designed 100-watt amps were made for the concert, but they weren’t nearly loud enough, especially over the screaming crowds. Again, the music, literally, just wasn’t being heard. In an archived interview with George, he says, “We were normal and the rest of the world was crazy.” The documentary certainly supports his claim; it’s far easier to identify with the overwhelmed young men than the girls who act as if serious tragedy has befallen them. The Beatles didn’t really understand what was going on: John said, “I always like singing ‘Help!’ because I meant it; it’s real.”
Director Ron Howard succeeded in showing us the Beatles through time. Though its production by Apple Corps, a corporation founded by and loyal to the Beatles, likely skewed Eight Days a Week in favor of the boys, it’s the memory we want to have, and no one is complaining. He appealed to people across generations, like the Beatles have. He took us on the emotional ride that the Beatles endured for four years, the ride that paved the way for four more years of revolutionary staples in the history of music. They couldn’t “go on forever as four clean little moptops saying ‘she loves you,’” but we love them that way too.