Tag Archives: Eight Days A Week

Book Review: “The Beatles On Screen: From Pop Stars To Musicians” by Stephanie Fremaux

This review is by Amy Hughes

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The lens through which we see The Beatles can be a prismatic collage of idol worship, fan participation, and undying gratitude. For most, the forming of those perspectives – beyond the music – was through the medium of film.

As a scholar and author, Stephanie Fremaux demonstrates in The Beatles On Screen: From Pop Stars To Musicians (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), how the band portrayed numerous versions of themselves that helped convey their image as witty moptops, groovy guys, psychedelic creators, and gutsy soul-baring artists.

Of course, from a realistic standpoint, most of the above descriptors have a caveat attached. Fremaux brings us through a studied course of their films (including Ron Howard’s ‘Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years’) and illustrates several touchpoints within the media. Most notable is how each fits within a specified genre and timeframe and pointedly, how their film image interacted with the fans.

1964’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was not the success or ground-breaking film it set out to be. Conceived before the group hit big in the US, director Richard Lester shot the film with the idea, as Fremaux notes, of a fictionalized account of what it was like to be The Beatles at that time. The advantage of the big screen brought the devoted as close as possible to their idols, highlighting the close-up, stylistic camerawork (mostly handheld) Lester thought necessary to convey their fast-paced lifestyle.

With the tide of Beatlemania shifting to closer examination of each ‘personality,’ Fremaux dissects the ‘real’ from the ‘fantasy,’ comparing and contrasting several notable scenes including the surrealistic sequence of The Beatles running/cycling alongside the train, taunting an old veteran (“Hey Mister, can we have our ball back?!”) to the film-within-a-television broadcast-within-a-film (‘And I Love Her’), surrounded by schoolgirls intercut with a performance (‘I Should Have Known Better’) and creating general calamity (with broad Liverpool humor) throughout the movie.

As Starr emerged as the film’s protagonist, 1965’s ‘Help!’ further showcased his persona as the centerpiece of the plot. Fremaux correctly points to several problematic aspects with the follow-up: as a mirror of the moment, the premise is non-tangible and moves their fans away from the center of attention. The plot is of the day (James Bond-ish), the locales are removed from the storyline and The Beatles themselves have no other job than to lip-sync to their songs (albeit wonderfully filmed by Lester) to avoid a sacrificial sect bent on killing Ringo.

While Fremaux notes that ‘Help!’ as a whole is weak, the individual songs used as connecting links hold up over time apart from the film. Considered among the first ‘music videos’ the segments were a showcase for what was coming in the next year as The Beatles moved away from live performances and into the studio to craft their future.

There would be no feature film in 1966, however several songs would make their debut for television broadcast as filmed shorts, the most noteworthy being ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer.’  Insofar as the band appears disenchanted or mocking in other versions (or as in ‘We Can Work It Out’ going off the rails in lip-sync laughter), the two color videos (directed by Micheal Lindsay-Hogg) helped to break the monotony, while furthering the experimentation that was on the horizon.

As The Beatles cartoon series chugged along in the US (much to the disdain of the band), Fremaux exams the seismic shifts happening as 1966 yielded to the iconic year of 1967. The ‘lads’ were morphing into serious musicians and their individualism – first noticed in the Lindsay-Hogg videos – were ignited full force with the release of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane.’

A notable characterization study, both films find the foursome further removed from ‘performing:’ recasting themselves with ‘Swinging London’ apparel, moustaches (!) and no instrumentation, their perceived aloofness mixed with a creative detached air of avant-garde musicianship, gave pause to the young audience they had seized upon only three years hence. That coolness factor – adult, yet child-like in execution – did not serve them well in their next film endeavor.

After the death of Brian Epstein, The Beatles moved forward with ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ despite the lack of planning and some say, script. While Paul McCartney loosely directed, the remaining three were given creative license with their ‘characters.’ Fremaux argues that although the end result was much maligned by the press, in hindsight ‘MMT’ brought about certain far-out visuals that predicted the future of music presentation. However the majority of the public, while making the soundtrack a hit, could not understand the psychedelic freeform narrative, resulting in the first major ding in The Beatles armor of commercial value.

In should then come as a slight surprise that 1968 saw a rebirth of their image to the general record-buying public. As their next feature film ‘Yellow Submarine’ was toiling away in the background without their direct supervision or input, the release of ‘Hey Jude/Revolution’ put them squarely back in favor with their fans.

‘Yellow Submarine’ in spite of the perceived lack of support, was a cinematic feast for the eyes. Although they eventually appeared at the end (minus the planned special effects), this animated image of The Beatles has endured, untethered from the real world and pleasantly living as a creative tribute to the men and women who placed their lives on hold because of their love for The Beatles.

Fremaux poses some interesting subjective viewpoints on the ‘Hey Jude’ clip, noting that Lennon, Harrison and Starr seem removed from the proceedings while McCartney (on piano, minus his iconic bass) takes the lead, with only the invited audience streaming in for the coda singalong to enliven the scene. This tendency to read into the tense environment that was slowly evolving, cast the next feature as a 50-year-old conundrum that since the publication of this book, has been turned inside out.

The dirge that ‘Let It Be’became known for, the “visual struggle” as Fremaux describes, is now in 2022 something of a misnomer. While Fremaux can only provide insight for the 1970 chain of events and the version available to critique, it’s exactly where most of the public saw the group at the movie’s release: four grown men, struggling creatively or not participating to the fullest degree, on the precipice of fallout and literally removed from the public who could not see the rooftop performance at 3 Savile Row.

The conclusion showcases the long journey The Beatles travelled from Liverpool favorites to global social influence. ‘Eight Days A Week,’ was their most recent film endeavor (until 2021’s ‘Get Back’) involving the approval of everyone connected. As fans and admirers, the celebrities and notables interviewed onscreen nearly reach the same conclusion: that despite what was going in their personal lives, The Beatles had spoken to them through music and film. Fremaux incidentally notes with no irony, that this film should have been the one between ‘Help!’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ an idea not too far flung. Director Ron Howard was able to paint a portrait that encapsulated the enormous influence and reach they had during those hectic years criss-crossing the world (not altogether satisfactorily sometimes), while maintaining a connection via concerts and movies for their audience.

“It is interesting to think that some fifty years before social media, before the idea of collective individualism that such platforms encourage, and before the extent to which anyone can be celebrities today, the Beatles used their films to project their ordinariness even at the height of their success.”

Fremaux’s words are in the end, worth a rating of 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family” by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

The Boys Ron Howard Clint HowardI’m always on the lookout for a Beatles related book that can hold my attention. I’m a huge fan of biographies and first hand experiences as compared to academic studies of the Beatles work and catalog. I’ve been lucky in the fact that Amy Hughes came along and asked if she could review books for this blog since she seems to excel at not only writing reviews, but she also likes reading those books that I can’t seem to get into. Thank you Amy!

About two weeks ago, I saw The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard on Amazon and knowing that Ron had directed the documentary – The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, I ordered a copy for myself. And lucky me…there was a used SIGNED First Edition for just $11 available!

The best way to describe this book written by Ron and his younger brother Clint is to imagine if the cast of Leave It to Beaver were a real family in Hollywood! We all know that in his younger years, little Ronny Howard played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show and..

a lot of first generation Beatles fans may remember Clint Howard as the adorable little boy with a pet bear on the TV show Gentle Ben. Star Trek fans will also know Clint from a first season episode where he played a 600 year old alien named Balok (Clint was 7 years old at the time).

And who can forget Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days! Well, these two were actually that cute as children growing up with parents who both put their own acting careers aside to support their two sons’ stardom. Not as stage parents…but as loving, supportive parents who were always there as they juggled auditions, rehearsals and stage time while maintaining a normal, all-American family life. It wasn’t always easy, but Ron and Clint tell the story honestly and with undying love and respect for their parents.

Only twice is the word “Beatles” uttered in this book, once when Ron admits to having donned a Beatles wig in his youth and once when he mentions that he was a fan in the 1960’s, but the lack of mentions of the Fab Four doesn’t stop it from being an exciting story of two brothers who were both the same and very different at the same time…but have a never-ending tight bond. It’s a true tribute to the American family and the more beautiful side of Hollywood fame. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

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Documentary Review: “Eight Days A Week”

img_37581I thought I would take my time writing my review about Eight Days A Week since I know all the Beatles fans will be scurrying out to see the film themselves and every Beatles media person will be in a hurry to post their own review about it. But just when I thought I could take my time, everyone else’s reviews started popping up on my social media timelines. I won’t read other’s reviews before writing my own. I want mine to be fresh. Even in this case, I’ve asked guest review and friend David Thomas to also write a review for the film (it’ll appear after mine on this same post), and I’m not reading his until after I’m done.

So where to begin…

large_large_uv7syi4vryjvwob8qexbqnbucu5Was it a great movies? Yes, it was awesome! I know people who are already planning to see it multiple times. My thought was that I can’t wait for it to come out on DVD/Blue Ray. It’s absolutely a film you’re going to want to see again and again. Ron Howard did an excellent job of choosing the right footage and cast of characters. He interviewed both  Sigourney Weaver and Whoopi Goldberg to talk about what it was like to be a fan in the early years and about their own experiences of seeing the Beatles live in concert as teenagers, two ladies I would never have guessed would have attended. I think my only complaint might be that we never hear Whoopi’s reaction to the actual concert at Shea Stadium.

Beatles fans need to give Ron Howard a lot of credit for not beating the obvious points and trivia into our heads…like the  Jesus vs. The Beatles comment from John Lennon. It’s in there, but he keeps it in the flow of the documentary…same as the riot in the Philippines. Mr. Howard brings up early footage of the wives and families with quick glimpses of Ringo, Maureen and Zack, and John, Cynthia and Julian, (where were George and Patty Boyd though?) and then moves on. No Beatles family members were interviewed on camera for this…and that ain’t so bad! It’s keep as documentary about the Fab Four and not the opinions of their feuding family members.

I think my readers get the point without me continuing to ramble on. It’s a great film, wonderful footage and of course, Ron Howard is already talking about doing a second Beatles documentary! Go see the movie or pre-order the DVD.

I rate this movie, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

Now…what does David Thomas think? Here is his review:

Ron Howard’s “Eight Days a Week” – A fan’s perspective
cid_c8fc7d00-da8a-43bf-8ebe-98e1f177c821I titled this review “a fan’s perspective” as somewhat of a disclaimer.  It is often difficult to know what would be of interest to anyone who has not been as steeped in the history of The Beatles as I have been over the last 50 years.  Not that I claim to have seen it all, or that I know it all (far from it); but I also cannot assume that everyone has read all the books and heard all the music that I have over that period of time.
 
I will say at the start, I think that Ron Howard and the others involved in this film have put together a solid documentary telling the story of The Beatles “touring years”.  What many forget (because their music is ubiquitous, and we are still writing, talking, and making movies about them 50 years later) is that they were together in the “John, Paul, George and Ringo” incarnation for only eight years, and performed “live” for only 4 of those.  Although the focus of the film is on “touring”, it does give you a good sense of how busy the boys were during those first four years, besides playing live.  The stills and film footage have been collected from a multitude of sources around the world, and they vary widely in quality.  There are only a couple of “complete” live performances in the movie (i.e., continuous, complete songs), and producer Nigel Sinclair has said that this was because they found it interrupted the flow of the movie.  I happen to agree with him, but it doesn’t matter; this is not intended to be a Beatles concert movie. *
 
What the film does best, is give the viewer a clear picture of the mania that surrounded The Beatles during their career.  This movie brings it home in a way that no fan has experienced before.  Although I have been a Beatle fan since their first performance on Ed Sullivan’s show in 1964 (the quality of which was strangely poor on the big screen – I thought that would have been one of the better examples), I was too young to have actually attended one of their live concerts in person:  I was only 7 when they played their final show in Candlestick Park in 1966.  Even if you had the rare privilege of actually attending a Beatles concert in person, that was just one mad night that you will likely remember forever.  The Beatles experienced that madness every day of their career, and most intensely during their touring years.  I left the theatre wondering how it is that they were not all afflicted with some sort of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  
 
A few pieces of footage have been colorized.  Some of the concert colorization is nicely done, but the famous NY Pan Am press conference has a rather unnatural look to it.  None of this lasts long enough to be a major distraction, however.  In some cases audio had to be “synced” to the film from a separate source; i.e., the film may have been a silent film, but the audio was recorded separately, and then combined, or simply brought in from a better source than the one accompanying the actual film.  This can get dicey, especially if done poorly.  Music producer for the film was Giles Martin, son of The Beatles original producer, George Martin.  Giles has worked magic with many previous Beatles projects, including the re-mixing and re-mastering of 1977’s “The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl”, which was released in conjunction with the film.  Giles was quoted in a recent interview as saying  “Imagine going to a concert today, recording something on your phone, and then intending to play it in a movie theater,” Martin says. “That would be better than what I was given.”  The talented Mr. Martin did a tremendous job of making the music performances not only watchable and listenable, but for the most part, truly enjoyable as well.
 
The theatre where I saw the film had people queuing up more than an hour before show time in order to get a good seat, and there were 3 showings scheduled that night, 2 of them sold out.  I got there an hour before show time, and there were 20 people ahead of me.  20 minutes later, there was a line behind me that went on for as long as I could see.  The anticipation in the theatre was visible, although one person I talked to in line had not read or seen anything about the movie prior.  He said he “just saw it was The Beatles, and bought a ticket.”  The power of the name “Beatles” more than 45 years after they broke up is still truly remarkable.  Fans all have their own Beatle experiences, memories, and reasons for seeing a film such as this.  And fans will find something to criticize, be it the fact that they have seen some of the footage before, the colorization was not to their liking, the audio was not perfect.  In this digital age we take for granted near perfect sound reproduction and 4K resolution.  But considering what they had to start with, none of the obvious shortcomings should be enough to keep you from enjoying this movie.  To paraphrase Paul McCartney, “it’s the bloody Beatles…shut-up”.
 
For the non-fan (is there such a thing as a non-Beatles fan?) or even the casual fan, it should serve as a concise historical document, which informs as well as entertains; what more can one ask from a documentary?
 
 
  • If you are fortunate enough to see this in a theatre, it IS being followed with a  full 30 minutes of footage from the famous Shea Stadium concert.  We have been told that that footage will NOT be on the DVD or blu-ray release.  It looks great, is a lot of fun, and even though Giles Martin toned down the screaming considerably in the mix (no small feat), I could see why they said enough in August of 1966.

 

 

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