The two-disc Deluxe Edition of Ron Howard’s film on the Beatles, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years 1962-1966, reaffirms the legacy of this iconic group to an even greater extent than the splendid archive title that came out earlier this year Live At The Hollywood Bowl. In fact, the additional content on the second disc of this pair presents a well-defined viewing experience on its own terms.
The five mini-documentaries might be viewed, individually or collectively, as a precursor to watching the movie itself or, sorted in a slightly different order presented as a viewing experience in itself, culminating with a collection of five full-length performance clips titled “The Beatles Live 1963-1965,” In fact, in the latter configuration, Ron Howard has tendered a viable history of the Beatles, distinct from previous such endeavors, including, arguably, The Beatles Anthology. And in this combined home video configuration of Eight Days A Week itself, Howard proffers an unusually illuminating perspective on the mythology surrounding this band .
With The Touring Years 1962-1966, the one-time TV star and renowned director/producer exhibits equal parts finesse and restraint in covering the virtually entire period the Beatles performed for audiences in public and crucially, correlates that activity with their work writing and recording. In fact, even though his wondrously researched footage goes all the way back the Liverpool’s Cavern Club, the filmmaker decides not to conclude this timeline with the group’s final tour stop at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August of 1966; instead, Howard sees fit to offer a knowing nod to the band’s increasing absorption with the intricacies of the studio and applies an unexpectedly logical conclusion to his tale of the road: offering his last live shots of the Beatles in performance taken from the now legendary concert on top of their office building in January of 1969.
During the course of the main feature, Howard maintains a brisk pace while otherwise slowly but surely placing the global phenomenon of Beatlemania within the context of other world-wide social and political developments of the time, beginning with the assassination of JFK late in 1963. In adopting this approach, he’s less a nostalgist than a historian and remains as self-disciplined as he is ambitious with his film, eschewing any attempt to make a statement on the profundity of the Beatles’ work, Instead, he allows the unfolding of the Beatles’ career to speak for itself, not just in terms of the increasing sophistication of their creativity, but in how that evolution mirrored their own intelligence and a deceptive collective maturity.
The groundbreaking events come in as rapid-fire a sensation as their hit singles from the Beatles’ insistence on not performing for segregated audiences in the American South to their initiation of the first-ever stadium concerts, where, as observed so sagely by Elvis Costello and laughingly commented upon by Ringo in two of the film’s well-placed interview segments, existing sound-systems couldn’t handle their music with clarity. This shortfall of technology becomes all the more obvious in comparison to the increasing sophistication of the Beatles writing and recording, as well as in contrast to the altogether wondrous audio of Eight Days A Week as overseen by Giles Martin, son of the Beatles studio mentor, Sir George Martin.
Two travelogues included on the second DVD in this package are devoted to the Beatles tours in such (then) exotic locales as Japan and Australia and further suggest the scope of their cultural influence. It’s a tribute to Ron Howard’s healthily detached cinematic storytelling that he resists overstating how far ahead of their time were the Beatles, so, as astute as is Jon Savage’s prose, effectively a play-by-play of the movie ( juxtaposed with a vivid array of photos in a sixty-four page booklet), that content can only scratch the surface of the information and entertainment contained on these discs. Nevertheless, it’s a fair starting point to pique the curiosity of the uninformed and will simply add another source of delight to those already familiar with the phenomenon.