Most people reading this would have heard at least one or two Beatles songs during their life and would know just who The Beatles were and their not insignificant place in music history. (For those who don't, The Beatles were a pop quartet founded in the town of Liverpool, in northern England, in the early 1960s who soon rose to global prominence and split up in the early 1970s.) But most people reading this would have never had the chance to see The Beatles play live, because they only toured the world doing concerts from 1963 to 1966. This fascinating documentary is the story of those few years on tour.
I should point out at this stage that I am an unabashed Beatles fan. Their music was a big part of my childhood (and no, I was far too young to see them live; my first live concert, when I was 11, was Abba) and it's been an important part of my life ever since. But deep down inside, I know I would have loved to have seen The Beatles perform live (although I doubt I would have been able to hear them over all the screaming going on, which is why they stopped performing live). There's been a lot said about The Beatles in the past 50 years or so, and a lot of films and documentaries about this marvellous quartet – the ultimate, of course, being The Beatles Anthology from 1995. But The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (to give it its full title) hones in and focuses simply on those four years on the road, the years after the band first toured the US following their television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and exploded onto the world stage. The documentary is filled with footage we have seen before, but a lot we have not – all nicely restored and remastered so that we can actually hear the boys playing their music above all the frantic screaming. There are new interviews with surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, alongside archival footage of the foursome facing the press ... and proving sharper, and funnier, than their interrogators.
And that is the one big thing that you take away from this documentary. Yes, they were amazing musicians and superlative songwriters (seriously, did they write even ONE bad song?). But the guys were just so damned funny. Amid all the craziness, they were very comfortable with who they were, and their wit was razor sharp and they had no problem putting it to good use in interviews and press conferences. Their personalities shone through it all, and these lovable moptops were loved by one and all. The other big thing you take away is just how close the four were. They were the only ones who went through and understood what they went through, and they did it together, and as both Paul and Ringo say, they became like brothers. They loved each other deeply, and that comes across in the film, alongside just how much they enjoyed playing and creating music together, until it became too much and they could no longer even hear themselves playing and so stopped touring and retired to the studio to produce some of the best albums ever recorded.
The Beatles were responsible for a lot of firsts. They were the world's first boy band. They created the stadium show (although in their day the sound came from the tannoy speakers and was somewhat tinny). They were the first band to have the number of No.1 hits that they did. The first band to star in a feature film drama (A Hard Day's Night). The first band to make music videos. They were the first band to hold all five top positions on the Billboard Singles chart. The influence of The Beatles on music and popular culture is almost impossible to measure, and the film includes interviews with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, both of whom actually saw the boys play live (Goldberg at Shea Stadium in 1965 and Weaver at the Hollywood Bowl in the same year).
There will never be another band like The Beatles; the world is now a very different place. These guys were a genuine one-off. They w ere not just a part of history, they created that history. This film reminds us just how wonderful their music was, and still is (hearing it now, in the cinema, it feels as fresh as the day it was recorded) and the strength of the musical and brotherly bond shared by these four musicians. We see them living a life inside a bizarre bubble, and surviving and growing together. The Beatles: Eight Days a Week is a compelling time capsule that gives us a glimpse into a moment of history, but reminds us that there is still so much to this story that only four men will ever know.
EXTRAS: The two-disc Blu-ray is a great package. The first disc contains the full-length feature, while the second contains all the bonus material, which consists of the following featurettes: An Alternative Opening For The Film (3:07); Words & Music (24:13); Early Clues To a New Direction (17:55); The Beatles Live 1963-1965 (11:59), which features five live performances from The Beatles – She Loves You, Twist and Shout, Can't Buy Me Love, You Can't Do That and Help!; and A Deeper Dive (43:12), which has seven featurettes: Liverpool, Three Beatles Fans, Ronnie Spector and The Beatles, Shooting A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles in Japan, The Beatles in Australia and Recollections of Shea Stadium.