Note: As of November 2016, Eight Days a Week is available in two editions: standard and deluxe. This review is of the standard edition.
As a long-time Beatles fan (though hardly the screaming girl type, mind you), I approached Eight Days a Week with a mixture of excitement and trepidation; before watching it, I ceaselessly wondered what this biopic brings to the table, if anything new could be discovered and analysed. When it was first announced, I thought that this film simply marked a renewal of commercial interest in the Beatles, a typical cash cow meant to draw profit from the immense legacy of the band and nothing more. As it turns out, Eight Days a Week manages to pack a few surprises here and there and is a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
At its core, it takes a closer look at the Beatles’ touring days (1962-1966), with a succinct treatment of their very early period (pre-1962). There is very little here about their struggles in Hamburg or the initial line-ups (which included Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe). In fact, Best and Sutcliffe are not even given a mention. While I agree that this is a legitimate point of criticism, it is probably best to understand that this was, in a way, beyond the scope of the film. As a result, the narrative begins to take shape once Ringo joins the band and they turn into the Beatles we all know.
I believe Eight Days a Week is a rousing success on three levels. First of all, it really does show you how absolutely insane the fans were once they shot to fame in both the UK and the States (1963-1964). There are no other words, really. The shots of screaming fans are beautifully edited, and they bring forth that mixture of excitement and anxiety of Beatlemaniacs. This is all the more impressive when you realise that these things were happening in an age when social media did not exist, and popularity and fame were mediated either by word-of-mouth or major forms of state-controlled media (mostly television and radio). Furthermore, interviews with people as diverse as Sigourney Weaver, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elvis Costello reveal what it was like to be an individual fan in a sea of tens of thousands!
Second, it adequately portrays Beatlemania as a cultural phenomenon without precedent and without a real successor either; it was the moment when post-World War II youth culture exploded on a massive scale and coalesced around a group which was fresh, inventive, representative of their interests, and almost completely divorced from previous generations. They were one of the first groups whose members had very distinct personalities; the Beatles talked back to the media in a humorous and confident way, increasing their appeal. They united people of different backgrounds in their admiration of them; in the process, they destroyed traditionalist barriers and modes of social interaction which had been going on for decades. The best example I can think of here is the section on their concert in Jacksonville, Florida, when the Fab Four said they would refuse to play to a segregated audience.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it offers a balanced account of what those years were like from the point of view of band members themselves. The sense of camaraderie and shared love for music shines through their recollections; but if there is one lingering impression, it’s that touring wasn’t all sunshine and roses – the Beatles certainly enjoyed their fame and were caught up in their mostly unexpected success (as Harrison says, ‘we didn’t realise what was to come’), but Eight Days a Week is also about hectic touring schedules (25 cities in 30 days!), stress, tiredness, and how all the media attention turned into a burden from 1965 onwards. As Lennon would later argue, ‘the Beatles were the show and the music had nothing to do with it’.
The momentous decision of the Beatles to stop performing live in mid-to-late 1966 had far-reaching consequences. From the moment they took control of the studio with Revolver, the group saw that, to their disillusionment, conquering mass consciousness as a pop band was more about the image than songwriting. On the way, their involvement with drugs, counterculture, and emerging technology such as multi-tracking, synthesizers and tape loops, would allow them to enter the most creative period of their career, and, at least for me, the most compelling chapter in their history. As the Beatles turned from Liverpool lads to mature men with their own lives and interests, it was inevitable that the myth of unity would disappear and they would disintegrate sooner or later. Before they did, however, they changed the face of popular music forever.
To a casual listener or someone who has barely heard any of their work, giving them a copy of A Hard Day’s Night and Eight Days a Week is probably enough to make them see what all the fuss is about (after all, if there’s one thing beyond doubt in most Beatles documentaries, it’s that the music is great). For the more serious fan, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen before, but you should do yourself a favour, watch it, and enjoy a nice evening. Once you’re done with that, I wholeheartedly recommend the Anthology documentary mini-series, which is a thorough, more nuanced, and more contextual look at their entire history.
Post Scriptum: The film ends with footage from their last official performance, the famous rooftop concert of January 1969. Although it seems a bit out of place without an analysis of their studio years, it does have quite an emotional impact.
Text by Vlad Nicu
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image taken from Google Images.