October 20, 2016
“Directed by an Oscar winning filmmaker, Ron Howard, Eight Days A Week is not only a collection of footages and images. It tries to unveil a mystery. A mystery of why The Beatles has emerged as the humongous undeniably most popular band on Earth. In the end, it doesn’t really unveil the mystery. But it brought us to an experience.”
“..At the beginning, things were really simple”, says Paul McCartney through his voice while the footage of The Beatles playing at ABC Cinema, Manchester in 1963, appeared on the screen. But all that they did was anything but simple. They created an epidemic called “The Beatles Maniac”. They created hysteria.
McCartney’s voice was attached to the montage of shrieking teenagers who were attending the gig. They were screaming at the top of their lungs, expressing their hysterical feeling on every single little action The Fab Fours members were doing on stage. These teenagers adored their hairdo, their singing style, their confidence and their fabulousness. They were thinking that The Beatles represented them. Sure, they did. And The Fab Four was singing “ She Loves You” to all those shrieking teenagers. Most of them were females. Of course, the song only brought more explosive effect to them. As every word was sung, the volume of their screaming was increasing. Louder and louder.
That was a brief illustration from Eight Days A Week, another documentary movies about The Beatles. The original Fab Four. It’s easy to see this movie as a glorification for the most popular band in the history of pop culture. It does glorify them. But I see it as more as the juxtaposition on a well-known fact. The fact of The Beatles is one of the most influential musicians of all time.
Directed by an Oscar-winning filmmaker, Ron Howard, Eight Days A Week is not only a collection of footages and images. It tries to unveil a mystery. A mystery of why The Beatles had emerged as the humongous undeniably most popular band on Earth. In the end, it doesn’t really unveil the mystery. But it brought us to an experience. An experience I, as the much younger generation, didn’t have an opportunity to be into. A cinematic experience that Ron Howard successfully delivers the images and footages tailored into a narrative. Like he did in Rush (2013), a biopic movie that showed us his perfection details in sound design. In that movie, we could hear every single detail of sounds of a Formula One engines burst into work. And the fact that the opening footages were taken from The Beatles concert in ABC Cinema, is an homage to cinema. A great start for the cinematic joy we’re about to witness.
Using the concept of ‘crowd sourcing”, the project itself, then, can be seen as a manifestation of love and admiration for The Beatles. Through the eyes of their fans, reflecting The Beatles as the fuel for their life as the inspiration. An inspiration that—later we will recognize—triggered some of important political and society events in history.
A Crowd Sourcing Project
Eight Days A Week began in 2002, when producers called out the hardcore fans for their own documentation of events related to The Beatles. Ron Howard then came on board in 2013 suggesting the idea of putting together those documentations into a movie that spans The Fab Four’s career until their final ticketed concert at San Fransisco’s Candlestick Park in August 1966. The era when they were touring 25 days in a month in 25 cities in the US alone.
Using the concept of ‘crowd sourcing”, the project itself, then, can be seen as a manifestation of love and admiration for The Beatles. Through the eyes of their fans, reflecting The Beatles as the fuel for their life as the inspiration. An inspiration that—later we will recognize—triggered some of important political and society events in history. The inspiration for some of the big names who voluntarily gave their testimonies. Big names like Sigourney Weaver, Howard Goodall, to Whoopi Goldberg.
The appearance of Whoopi Goldberg giving her testimony in Eight Days A Week, brings such a delicate joy to me. There’s a little bit of “ Sister Act connection” here. I remember watching Sister Act (1992), a musical movie whom Goldberg starred in, back then when I was a little kid. There’s scene when little Dolores, a character Goldberg played in that movie, answered a question from her teacher. The teacher asked her who Jesus’ apostles are. The little Dolores then named “John, Paul, George and Ringo”, instead of naming the actual apostles. I burst into laugh to that scene. A brief scene that introduced me to the knowledge of how influential The Beatles really was.
Whoopi Goldberg provides her commentary from another perspective. The perspective of people of colors. A commentary from people who experienced an era when the United States practiced the “segregation policy”. A policy that would not allow African Americans be in the same venue with the white citizens. At one scene, Goldberg said that, “… The Beatles were colorless”. An African-American historian, Kitty Oliver who also provides her testimony, recalled her memory being able to attend their un-segregated concert in Jacksonville, Florida, on September 11, 1964, without having a concern about “ being a black teenage girl among white girls”. Their music gave her hopes. The music without limits and boundaries. A music sans frontiers.
In reviewing a documentary about a fascinating subject like The Beatles, it’s so easy for us being trapped in our subjectivity. I, myself, am familiar with their songs. I even follow their story. Mostly through their songs. Put all the subjectivities aside, Ron Howard successfully recaptures the atmosphere and the ambiance of events that’s been separated by decades from us. I can feel the crowd. I can sense the heat in the stadium where thousands of people gathered cheering and applauding. At some moments, I even can feel the sweat Paul McCartney produced in that famous suit. I can feel the hysteria. I can feel the massive amount of stress (and overwhelming feeling) The Beatles members were experiencing when they were performing.
It’s all due to the quality of storytelling.
“But what is more astonishing about Ron Howard’s documentary is the way he put a full respect to the original material. He understands that all of those documentations are too precious to be presented in such a raw concept. Instead, he enhances them.”
The Powerful Cinematic Experience That Celebrates A Good Life
The quality that emerges from how diligent the editor was in tailoring thousands of footages and images into a relatively comprehensive story. Some documents are precious and never-before-seen. We will see a Super 8 shot from a woman who attended their concert at Candlestick Park in November 1966. We will see some casualties in their concert where young female teenagers got passed out and bleeding when they attempted to break the barricades. We even will see the young Sigourney Weaver was shot by a camera when she attended one of their concerts. The footages are precious. The editing should be cherished.
Under Howard supervision, they filmmakers perfectly attached recorded voices of The Beatles members when they were doing interviews. Or when they were in the famous Abbey Road studio recording their albums. We can hear how cheeky and playful they were. Young spirits who just happened to do what they love to do. Created hundreds of songs that later will be regarded as some of the best. Songs that coincidently enhances the moments we will watch on screen.
Ron Howard was smart enough in presenting the footages of The Beatles in tandem with political events. The day John F. Kennedy was shot; The moment when there were a riot and demonstration from black people. It would give us a view of their music relevance to the political movement. The recorded interview that will lead us to the knowledge that Beatles themselves was against the segregation policy.
“It just seemed mad to me,” John Lennon said.
But, Ron Howard still gives room for their egotistical side. We can hear Paul McCartney’s admission that, “…we were more in our heads,”. Withal, they were just a bunch of young boys who enjoying their overwhelmingly popularity.
We can also see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the only two key members of The Beatles who still alive, as they speak about what they felt during the hectic era. Howard assembles a hearty set of talking heads in this documentary, recalling their collective memories in series of engaging interviews about witnessing themselves as the biggest band in the world.
Ron Howard also didn’t forget to bring us back to the core of The Beatles. The core is a man whose name is Brian Epstein, a legendary manager who brought them to the peak of their career. We are provided a glimpse of his contribution. But he forgets to bring the ex-members like Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe to the plate. They are completely dismissed and ignored. It’s an ironic eventually since they also contributed a huge part to The Beatles in the early of their career.
But, there’s a little bit of humor too. The moment when an American journalist had mistaken John Lennon with “Erick”. Or when George Harrison used John Lennon’s head as the ashtray. And Howard also brings the cinematic tribute, as we can see the appearance of Richard Lester, a filmmaker behind The Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Combined with clips from those movies, Lester recalled the chaotic moments he experienced when filming them.
We get a little knowledge (once again) when Ringo says they actually didn’t earn much money from their albums. Albeit, they collected greens from their vinyl sales.
If you’re a huge fan of The Beatles, there are nothing much more revealing facts in Eight Days A Week actually. You would probably know all the facts and information Ron Howard was trying to serve. We all know the out-of-context “The Beatle is more popular than Jesus” John Lennon was once said in an interview. You would also probably know that later in 1966, they decided that they were already enough. Or the fact that, later, they shifted their music into a more spiritualism one. As we can find in their “Revolver” album (my most favorite and their real “magnum opus”), when they put India sitar melody into some of their songs.
But what is more astonishing about Ron Howard’s documentary is the way he put a full respect to the original material. He understands that all of those documentations are too precious to be presented in such a raw concept. Instead, he enhances them. The color and sound are crystal clear. The result is vividly coming from the process of restoration. It feels like all of those footages and images and sounds are just taken recently. For this kind of quality, I also see Eight Days A Week as a celebration of highest achievement in technology. A celebration to the treasure in our culture history.
I said this in aforementioned paragraphs that Eight Days A Week doesn’t really unveil the mystery. The mystery that’s been surrounding what made them so wildly popular until today. But it does bring us to another understanding.
“Why do they scream?” a reporter asked the Fab Four in a footage. John Lennon and all of his fellow spontaneously answered, “ I don’t know!”. The expression was not only coming from their mouths but also from their gestures. There’s such a genuine & spontaneous honesty from the way they answered it. I believe they didn’t know. We still don’t know either.
In an interview, Howard Goodall (composer, Mr. Bean) says that volume isn’t really what The Beatles all about. The extraordinary thing about The Beatles is the amount of great melodious songs they’ve produced. Among their hundreds of songs, around a hundred of them are great. Goodall later compares The Beatles to Mozart. It is not an exaggeration. It is a fact. And I agree on it.
All great songs The Beatles has produced that unites people. No matter where they are coming from. No matter what’s age. No matter what’s era. In Eight Days A Week we will see thousands of audiences in a footage taken from a football match in Anfield Stadium, in Liverpool, on April 16, 1964. They were all men united in one single harmonic voice singing “She Loves You”, the same song that brought hundreds of female teenagers into a mass hysteria at the beginning of the movie.
That footage was a huge contrast. A huge contrast that shows how The Beatles could bring thousands of people in a togetherness. It shows what a good music can do.
“ A lot of people thought we were an overnight sensation. We weren’t. People didn’t realize we all had this development. The just saw before…things. … and these all that we’ve been just doing. All these years. Previously, “ McCartney says again from the footage we previously saw when they performed at ABC Cinema. We are witnessing how powerful of Fab Four was. And still is. More than four decades after the gig, The Beatles has become a part of history. They are the phenomenon. Their songs will always speak about something. Their songs are still powerful and sung over and over again. Their music is universal and timeless. Newer generation relates to their songs. They still speak and represent a story. The Beatles isn’t just an overnight sensation. They are not only a bunch of attractive male teenagers who played music. They all are a group of talented musicians who worked hard and had discipline. They played something that they loved and they knew. They’ve created a culture. They’ve set the bar.
It’s kind of odd enough after watching Eight Days A Week, I’m thinking that it actually has a relevance to how we see young pop stars in the making today. It also works as a social commentary on how we–people who proclaim ourselves as the much better generation in terms of music–like most critics and media saw The Beatles when they first arose as a music sensation. They were underestimated. The same case with most of us cynically undervalued Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and other young pop sensations. In fact, we’ll never know where the wind is going to blow. Perhaps, someday today young artists will establish themselves as legends in the future. No one will ever know. We only have to wait. Wait for the times will tell if they will continue producing some other great works.
The film was closed by the footage of them playing “Don’t Let Me Down” from The Black Album. They performed it at the rooftop of their office. But, the 3o minutes of their restored concert footage in Shea Stadium, New York, in 1963 is the true gem. As the final credits rolls, you can hear McCartney’s and Harrison’s harmony backing Lennon on “Help!”, as well as Harrison’s guitar playing through in between. You can even saw the playfulness from Lennon, as he played the organ with his elbows. The audio and sound are remarkably wonderfully clear. It’s the real gem we’re, as the newest generation, experiencing.
And we couldn’t celebrate more like we can do with Eight Days A Week. She loves them. He loves them. We still love them. Like McCartney said, “ It’s not a culture. It’s a good life,”
Yeah, the movie will make us to value history, great songs and a good life. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Reviewed at Cinemaxx Theater on October 20, 2016
Running time : 138 minutes
Imported and distributed for Indonesia market by PT. Athali Sukses Makmur.
A Hulu Documentary Films (in U.S.)/Studiocanal (in U.K.) release of a The Beatles’ Apple Corps Limited/Studiocanal/PolyGram Entertainment presentation of a White Horse Pictures, Imagine Entertainment production, in association with Diamond Docs.
Producers: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Nigel Sinclair, Scott Pascucci.
Executive producers: Jeff Jones, Guy East, Jonathan Clyde, Nicholas Ferrall, Michael Rosenberg, Paul Crowder, Mark Monroe.
Co-producers: Matthew White, Stuart Samuels, Bruce Higham.
Director: Ron Howard.
Writer: Mark Monroe
Camera (color): Michael Wood.
Editor : Paul Crowder.
With : Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Larry Kane, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, Sigourney Weaver, Neil Aspinall, Richard Lester, Kitty Oliver, Derek Taylor, Howard Goodall, Jon Savage, Ed Freeman.