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The Beatles and how the world first saw them

My favorite moment in “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” comes early when the Liverpool lads are having one of their delightful initial encounters with the press. John is sitting in front and, rather typically, talking a lot. Standing behind him and smoking is George. As John, the verbal one, drolly explicates Beatleness to an awaiting press, George, the significantly diffident one, merrily flicks ashes from his cigarette atop John’s head.

That’s it, right there, in just a few seconds. Those are the Beatles the world fell in love with. Before we had any idea how very great their music would be, they were a blast of wry, youthful insouciance that amused us every bit as much as it amused them. You’ll just have to excuse those of us who thought at the time they were a perfect course correction for a world in imminent danger of going senile.

They weren’t nasty, as Eddie Izzard points out here, “just brazen.”

Flash forward a couple of decades and we discovered that ash-flicker George – in so many ways the most interesting and surprising of the four – also loved movies so much that he’d have his own movie production company that would be responsible for some of the best movies in his lifetime including the Monty Python movies, “Withnail and I,” “Mona Lisa” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (In his heart of hearts, George may have thought he was on loan to the Beatles from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.)

There are revelations aplenty and a lot of the interview and performance footage is new. Beatle lovers will be enthralled. Newbies will discover in a raw blast what their parents and grandparents fell for so hard.

Anyone who has ever thought of Ringo as a weak choice to fit in with all those type A types needs to guess again. We hear Paul tell us how much all the lads fell for Ringo right from the beginning.

Just to prove the point, the movie shows you something you’ve never seen before – rookie Beatles drummer Ringo, taking over from Pete Best, playing like a demon possessed in one of their earliest gigs together. He’s exploding all over his dinky little drum kit playing twice as much powerful music as any number of later drummers do with four times the number of drums in their kits.

You’ll never say another derogatory word about Ringo again, believe me.

Here’s another new revelatory moment in “Eight Days a Week”: George wearily mentions the commonplace theory that their adulthood was delayed by having to go on tour at such an early age. The truth, says George, is the opposite. Being on constant tour so young required them to grow up much faster than they would have otherwise.

These are guys who played 815 gigs in 15 countries over a four-year period starting in Hamburg, Germany, clubs where they didn’t have their own bathroom and winding up in Shea Stadium in New York City, where the crowd was so loud that Ringo attentively watched the fannies and arms of the band to know where they were in the song. He couldn’t hear them at all, a few feet away.

It wasn’t really Beatlemania. It was Beatle Lunacy. It was that nuts at the time. (See the great Richard Lester’s masterpiece “A Hard Day’s Night” and Martin Scorsese’s doc about George “Living in the Material World.”)

I frankly can’t imagine why anyone would want to miss this film, whether you’re a Beatle lover or nostalgist or just younger newbie who wants to know what all the unparalleled screaming was about.

But there’s a lot you won’t see. There are, for instance, no tales of personal friction – not even a suggestion, for instance, of how much John and George came to despise Paul. (Look into the eyes of the young Paul. You can practically see how much he wants to make it in the world beneath his “cute Beatle” visage. John, on the other hand, seems to want to make nothing but music and trouble.)

Director Ron Howard’s view of the young Beatles is, like everything Howard does, colored by an ineradicable inner streak of Opie the Optimist. Drugs are barely a whisper here. Groupies are generic, mere lifestyle attachments to be taken for granted.

It’s fun to hear Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver freely admit their gender’s form of Beatlemania. But neither their manager Brian Epstein or amazing producer George Martin is given suitable attention for my taste.

But this is how the lads lived and conquered on the road until they just couldn’t do it anymore. In Vancouver, 7,000 kids rushed the stage; 240 wound up in the hospital. There was a bomb scare in Memphis.

The last thing we see is the band’s concert on the roof of Apple Records. It’s a cold day. A couple of them are wearing parkas while they sing and play. It had been a long time since, as John put it, performing publicly left them feeling like “a politician. You’re on 24 hours a day.” It was much warmer with just each other in the studio. Until that wasn’t true anymore either.

You’re able to see this on Hulu or DVD beginning Friday. A lot of the footage couldn’t be grainier, but if ever there was stuff that deserved a big movie screen, it’s this stuff.



4 stars (Out of four)

Title: “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years”

Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr

Director: Ron Howard

Running time: 137 minutes

Rating: No rating but PG equivalent.

The Lowdown: Documentary about the Beatles on tour with new performance footage and interviews.

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