I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember and, as well as the actual music, I grew up with a lot of ‘supplemental material’ that informed my fandom for the group as well. Reference books were the big one, but my older brother also had a documentary called The Compleat Beatles on an old VHS tape. Narrated by Malcolm McDowell, this 1982 documentary introduced me to most of the best-known Beatles footage that I would see used, again and again, over the decades to come.
Even when The Beatles own Anthology series came out, I felt as though I’d seen a lot of the historical footage many times before. There can only be ‘so much’ of it, right? Of course the newly-recorded material from Paul, George, and Ringo was new to me, but a lot of the other stuff wasn’t.
So it came as a pleasant surprise that when I sat down with Ron Howard’s Eight Days a Week, I felt I was seeing new things. Footage I only remembered in black and white, was now colour. Had it been colourised for the film, or did it always exist in colour? As of writing this, I don’t know. I may be able to find out by exploring the extras on the disc or perhaps a commentary if I find time. Even moments where I could detect trickery were pleasing. For example, John Lennon’s famous quote about cheering the band up by saying they were going to the ‘toppermost of the poppermost’ has inserts from a separate George Harrison interview, so now there’s an oddly pleasing call and response between Lennon and Harrison where, previously, it was just Lennon or Harrison telling the whole story.
Like Anthology, there are new interviews with members of the group. Paul seems to have been interviewed twice and Ringo once. There’s no new revelations from these inserts, but the fact it’s new footage freshens up proceedings nicely. As do a bunch of talking heads including Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver (who is also shown in archival footage in the crowd at a Beatles concert), Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, and more. This all combines well and helps bring the old footage to life quite nicely, as do some nice animations and graphics which don’t overwhelm the content, but certainly polish it up to modern documentary standards just as you’d expect.
I will note that the emphasis of Eight Days a Week is largely US-centric, which is no surprise given the filmmaker, or the fact that the Beatles major touring success was in the US. So while aspects like their early Hamburg days and touring in the UK are absolutely touched on, it’s more about going to the US multiple times, Kennedy’s assassination, segregation in the South, the Beatles ban after Lennon said the band were bigger than Jesus, etc, that get focused on. Again, other events during their touring years are definitely covered, but in nowhere near the same level of overall detail.
Really there’s not a whole lot more to say about the film. If you’re a Beatles fan and you know the stories and the archival footage, nothing will really surprise you here very much and I think you’ll just find yourself smiling and reminiscing, as I did, as the good times wash over you once more.
I wonder how many times the Beatles story (or aspects of it), can be told. Perhaps Peter Jackson’s take on Let It Be in August of 2021 will be the last big one of its kind? For now we must wait and see.