THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK THE TOURING YEARS directed by Ron Howard. 97 minutes OpensFriday (October 7). See listings. Rating: NNNN
It was supposed to be a one-time-only event screening at Yonge & Dundas 24. But interest in The Beatles: Eight Days A Week The Touring Years was so intense, the screenings at Y&D have been extended through this week. And now the documentary also screens for 12 days at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Which has people wondering: Even taking into account the massive popularity of the Fab Four in their heyday and the fact that their music still sounds gloriously fresh, why has Ron Howards documentary become such a hot ticket?
One factor is surely that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the bands last live Toronto appearance, at Maple Leaf Gardens. Here in Toronto, a Beatles 50 T.O. event included a Classic Albums Live reproduction of the Beatles original set list for their 1966 concert at the original MLG, now the Mattamy Centre a historical exhibit, When The Beatles Rocked Toronto, and guided walks of the mid-60s Yonge Street music scene.
T.O. baby boomers ate it all up. Youth culture a phenomenon triggered by the Beatles craze became a big thing in the 60s precisely because baby boomers were an unusually mammoth niche market. And guess what? We still are.
So theres a built-in demographic ready to lap up a pic like Eight Days A Week. Director Ron Howard cannily tapped his main market by crowdsourcing new material, mostly home-made films shot by rabid admirers at concerts where, if all they could hear was the screaming fans, at least they could see something.
But more important, Howards doc takes just the right amount of time to show you why the band wound up changing everything. They hit just when TV was transforming popular culture, making it possible for a band like the Beatles to become a worldwide sensation.
And, as is plain from the doc, John, Paul, George and Ringo were sublimely charismatic, extremely creative and incredibly talented musicians.
The music is gobsmackingly good. The technical team has managed to isolate the original performances directly from the sound board, so with the volume of fans intense screaming reduced, you can actually hear what the band is playing. The lads themselves couldnt hear a thing in large stadiums, yet they miraculously remained in tune.
They struck when baby boomers were in their teens, at our most impressionable. The Beatles had long hair teenage boys started growing their hair. The Beatles spoke out against the Vietnam War. The documentarys co-writer Mark Monroe has commented that it was unthinkable a year before 1963 that a single person would even want to know the opinions of a pop star. Sure, the anti-war movement already had an increasing influence in America, but no doubt the Beatles made peace cooler.
Racial politics? Theres new material in the doc about the Beatles refusal to play segregated venues in the American South during their 1964 tour, something given no coverage at the time. We knew of the bands impact on developing anti-war sentiment, but thanks to this doc, weve learned about their sensitivity to racism.
I would have ended the film with the last chord of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, that brilliant album that signalled the end of the Beatles as we knew them they certainly didnt want to be the Beatles any more, which is why they created a collective alter ego. Instead, Howard goes with their 1969 rooftop concert without giving any context. They sound dreadful, are obviously alienated John Lennon chewing gum throughout and barely connect with each other.
As it is, by showing us how they grew from boys to men, from writing love songs to tunes with much more depth, from loving their success to loathing their fame, creating prodigiously all the way through, the film makes it clear that the Beatles phenomenon was like no other.
Everyone, not just the boomer generation, takes for granted those things the Beatles invented: the first stadium concert (Shea Stadium) the first album release that didnt contain a single that had already been a top-10 hit (Rubber Soul, the original studio album) the first album to include lyrics in the record package (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band).
The bands influence was huge with an audience that still wields economic clout.
Will the documentary play to those who didnt grow up with the Beatles? My guess is that it doesnt really matter. Itll do just fine thanks just to a generation that will never let the Beatles go.