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Director Howard's homage to the Fab Four focuses on the group's early years playing at small clubs, their breakthrough songs and albums as well as their subsequent TV appearances and US and world tours.

A two-hour lovefest for fans of The Beatles

Nov 4, 2016 5:50 AM

ON Aug 15, 1965, a few days after a certain little island in South-east Asia gained independence, a similarly historic event (one that surely attracted more media attention) took place on the other side of the world at a packed baseball stadium in New York City. Beatlemania was at its height and 56,000 screaming fans (the vast majority of them teenage girls) were worshipping at pop music's most exalted altar.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years is director Ron Howard's homage to the Fab Four, specifically their unprecedented assault on the top of the music charts in the early-to-mid-1960s and their remarkable impact on popular culture, culminating in that Shea Stadium concert.

The film focuses on the group's early years playing at small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, their breakthrough songs and albums as well as their subsequent TV appearances and US and world tours.

By August 1966, the immense pressures of dealing daily with mass hysteria and the negative publicity surrounding John Lennon's "we're more popular than Jesus" remark had incensed many American fans.

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The joking around and upbeat press conferences, the sassy comebacks to questions, the sheer joy of being The Beatles that was so evident earlier on was now missing. Lennon's seminal song Help also served as a personal plea. "I always liked singing Help because I meant it, it's real," he says.

There are no revelations about the personal feuds or complex relationships that marred the group's later years, however - Howard seems intent on retaining a feel-good mood.

For Beatles fans, Eight Days a Week is a two-hour lovefest (there's also a 30-minute add-on documentary of the New York concert - impressively remastered - at the end of Howard's film) that provides an opportunity to view some rare archival footage plus new interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and assorted celebrities whose lives were influenced by the band (Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver among them).

There's the music, of course, but there are also interesting segments on the songwriting process and how it evolved, and how The Beatles basically matured from a fun-loving boy band into deeper thinkers, eager to explore uncharted musical territory - especially in the recording studio. Working with them every step of the way were manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin.

The soundtrack to the film is accompanied by scenes of incessant screaming and swooning by teenage girls - the ones who bought their records by the millions and helped to turn the band into a four-headed monster. Amid the euphoria, there is also an attempt to provide a bit of historical and social perspective - including a scene where they voice their disapproval of racial segregation.

The Beatles were a once-every-few-generations phenomenon, possibly longer. Eight Days a Week even compares their composing prowess with Schubert and Mozart - the fan favourites of their day.

In one scene, Lennon relates how in the early days - when the band was playing in a succession of scruffy low-end dives, he had a morale-boosting routine where he would shout out to the others: "Where are we going, boys?" Invariably, the answer would come back in a well-rehearsed chorus: "To the top, Johnny, to the top."

Rating: B-

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