‘Eight Days a Week’
Towards the end of Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s Beatles new documentary, all reason and proportion briefly fled and I was overpowered by a sense of rage. Those bloody Americans: it was all their fault. With their idiotic 50,000-seater stadiums and their imbecilic urge to misconstrue a perfectly innocent remark about Christianity in a John Lennon interview, they ruined the whole thing.
Not entirely true, of course. The dream was always going to end sometime. But you can see very clearly, in a film that purports to concentrate on the group’s touring years, how the pressure exerted by their immoderate success in the US in particular drove them to fall out of love with what life on the road had come to represent, once the novelty faded. After 1963 they were never able to perform live in an environment that allowed them to show how good they were. All four of them felt that frustration. The Plastic Ono Band, Wings and George’s stint with Delaney and Bonnie were among the consequences.
It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened had America not taken to them. Beatlemania in the UK and Europe would have died down a little, perhaps enough to allow them to continue touring together in more helpful conditions. Would they have been able to spend so much time in the studio, concocting Sgt Pepper and the White Album? Probably so; that’s the way they were heading anyway.
There are many cherishable moments in the film, not least a version of “I Saw Her Standing There” that shows what a blazing little band they were. The picture above, which I’ve grabbed from the trailer, is from that sequence; it captures the feeling. And the final sequence of “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I Got a Feeling” from the concert on the roof of No 3, Savile Row on January 30, 1969 — the first time they’d played live together in public not wearing a band uniform since Brian Epstein became their manager, as well as being the last time they played live together in public at all — is, as ever, deeply sad for the same reason. Imagine if they’d had the sort of rock-concert facilities they lay just around the corner.
As for the film itself, it’s a shame Ron Howard hasn’t learnt the lesson of the great documentary director Asif Kapadia’s work on Senna and Amy: at all costs, avoid showing talking heads on the screen. They slow it down and clutter it up. Elvis Costello and Whoopi Goldberg (particularly) are among those who have genuine insights to impart, but we don’t need to see them when there’s such a richness of archive footage available. But, of course, Eight Days a Week is not to be missed.
Oh for the love of all thing true ! When will you Brits finally get over trying to blame us [US] for everything wrong in the world .. including now according to you the demise of the Beatles as well ? The simple reality was the Beatles were unable to handle the fame that was dumped on them by the wretched excess hype , marketing and over exposure their British management and record label thrusted upon … and in fact demanded of them . Not the US audience that was sold a bill of goods and gobbled it up hook , line and sinker despite the fact that in their early years the Beatles were nothing more than a fop haired , hyped up Buddy Holly pastiche band dressed and groomed musically by George Martin for whom without the Beatles would of never gotten beyond first base . Fact is creatively had it not been for the influence of Bob Dylan , the Beach Boys as well as the musical input / arrangements and compositional skills of George Martin the Beatles would of wound up one of many One Hit Wonder / Flash in the Pan’s …. with Sgt Peppers , The White Album etc being but a distant dream never realized . So seriously Mr Williams . Quit trying to blame the ills of the world on us [ US ] spending a little more time pulling the huge ( censored ) plank out of your own British eyes rather than trying to point out the dust in ours . Sure we’re not perfect . But then again neither are you Brits . And the fact is we learned many [ if not most ] of our ‘ imperfections ‘ from y’all . Having said that though .. calling me an Anglophile both musically as well as a few other areas [ F1 etc ] is a bit of an understatement . So take the above criticism with all the love and respect intended .
Rock On – Remain Calm [ despite all the current political bs ] – and do Carry On
Did you not read the next line: “Not entirely true, of course.”?
The point about not having talking heads appear on screen is also well proven in Alex Gibney’s excellent Sinatra four-part mini series ‘All or Nothing at All’.
I have no interest in seeing this new Beatles film; The reason is that it relies on concert footage after they had ceased to be interesting as a live act. The only existing film that might suggest live prowess is the “Some Other Guy’ Cavern film and the concert they performed in Washington (?) in 1964.
They suffer in comparison with other bands:- The 1964 NME Wembley show with the Stones is especially telling. Where The Stones blast them off the stage. The Stones themselves lost their way live, but recovered spectacularly in 1969, In the same year the Beatles played on the roof. The raw roof top tapes in circulation reveal the Beatles playing was under rehearsed and sloppy.
Also compare Beatles performances with The Beach Boys; The Who; The Kinks on RSG, and most tellingly, Bob Dylan’s astonishing and timeless 1966 British Shows.
How watchable are the live Beatles? not very it all looks and sounds very dated to me.
Once again let’s hear it for nuanced internet debate. Seriously though, the commentators do raise some pertinent points in amongst the bile. One is that most people are so over the Beatles, or rather a particular historically ossified way of presenting the Beatles. I have to admit that my first thoughts on hearing about Ron Howard’s film weren’t reflected in any of the PR gush I read. They were ‘oh Christ. Not again.” The same old same old. One of the many reasons I miss John Lennon’s cussed presence (apart from the fact that he would have made a splendidly cantankerous old git guest on many a chat show) is that he would have seen through all this shit instantly. It’s not so much the talking heads I have problems with – although I totally agree they are a clichéd and increasingly outmoded way of presenting pop history – it’s the lazy tired flogging of dead myths. The Fabs myth part 138.
In a recent book I tried to interject some new life into the way we view the early Fabs. I reclaimed their girl group roots (and routes.) I made a case for the presence of a gossipy feminised voiced in some of their best songs. So successful was this ploy that the book currently sits proudly at number 6708 in the Anaesthetics category in Amazons chart listing. Looking forward to all the Sgt Pepper 50th anniv stuff next year immensely…
As some esteemed critic remarked at the time “Let it be” was released, a funky little band who would go down a storm at the Roundhouse