A RON HOWARD FILM
Ringo. The first word we hear is Paul McCartney’s voice calling “Ringo.” A surprising start for a film abut ‘The Fab Four.’ John, Paul, George and Ringo. Pretty much the pecking order within the band; their audience largely in lock step with the lads. This opening word, “ Ringo” is where the surprises begin, and end.
8 Days A Week could be renamed “The Beatles in Disneyland.” The plot line follows front page headlines generated by these lads from Liverpool, and there was no shortage of headlines. For a while The Beatles were more famous than the Royal Family, more popular than Jesus. (Apologies to John Winston Lennon’s estate, lest the estate of John Ono Lennon chooses to sue me.)
I loved, and still love the band, The Beatles. Their personalities enchanted the teenage me. Their music has chartered my passage through life thus far. I am a musician, a songwriter and a guitarist because, hey, that’s what John Lennon did. Seeing heaps of The Beatles in any film guarantees I will love the film, yet 8 Days A Week left me feeling a tad empty and quite dissatisfied.
8 Days A Week is too American centric. The Beatles gain their relevance because America’s youth, both male and female (Beatlemania occurred before LBGTIQ labeling) went off their heads and weak at the knees over them. Even England only warrants the occasional look in. Europe, Asia and Australasia probably clog up no more than 5 minutes of the film’s viewing time. There is no mention of The Beatle’s importance in the underground Russian political and cultural scene, let alone other territories behind the Iron Curtain.
We see the ecstatic crowds in Adelaide; the polite audience in Japan, the intrigued Northern European followers, and the angry, disgruntled Filipinos. These stories demand some attention due to the headlines created in these nations.
Detail is reserved for The Beatles time in America. “Here they are. The Beatles” declares Mr. Ed, Sullivan, not the talking horse. The instant adulation. The disconcerted adults dismayed at the wetting of their teenage daughter’s nickers. The craziness of it all. The claustrophobia. God botherers defending Jesus’ good name. The initially skeptical; conservative, tag a long DJ. We see all that is obvious and superficial.
We get a few famous talking heads, Paul and Ringo included, yet out of all they say we really only learn one thing. What it felt like for Whoopi Goldberg, as a young black person, to finally mix with white people: Their divisions swept away by love for The Beatles.
Reference is made to the somber mood in America after the untimely and brutal demise of their Camelot, JFK. John, Paul, George and Ringo came along at the right time as the perfect anti-dote.
We see racial division, tension and violence on American streets. The Beatles speak out against racism in a united voice. The four had to all agree before anyone of them was allowed to comment on issues of import. That fact is the only thing we learn about them from within their camp.
What about Vietnam? I remember The Beatles speaking out against the war. More needed to be made of their personal lives, the real politics within the cage, the impact of booze and marijuana. I could go on.
Ron Howard does nothing to surprise, nothing to debunk the canonization of our four saints. It is a pity. Their legacy is strong enough to survive anything shy of a Milli Vanilli disclosure.
Howard’s film works as a fabulous expose of Beatlemania. Those too young to have lived through The Beatles era will be stunned at how all encompassing love for John, Paul, George and Ringo truly was.
8 Days A Week highlights just how good a live band they were. In fact, they were bloody marvelous. Great songs. Two outstandingly good front singers. Sublime, precise harmonies. Beautiful playing. Slightly daggy presentation. Nothing surprising in all of that. The last thing you would ever have to prove about The Beatles is that they were real musicians who could cut the mustard live.
8 Days A Week could have made far more of the interviews with McCartney and Starr. Sadly, footage of the older Lennon and Harrison has to be archival. The sound is wonderful. Historical footage looks crisp.
A film about The Beatles can’t fail, but this one does not pass with flying colours.
Personal disclosure : I knew Robert Whittaker and regarded him as a friend. His connection with The Beatles started in 1964 when he was engaged as the photographer when Adrian Rawlins interviewed Brian Epstein in Melbourne. ( Rawlins’ image lives on in Fitzroy as the statue along Brunswick Street, just north of Johnston Street.) The concept and delivery of the infamous buthchers cover is Whittaker’s major legacy of his time, 3 years in all, with the lads.