|The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.|
Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years is a documentary covering the Beatles’ life as a live band from 1963 to 1966, with interludes on their studio work, and everything about it is easy. Why shouldn’t it be? The Beatles were nothing if not easy – “easy,” as Bob Dylan put it in Chronicles, “to accept.” But there are different kinds of ease. Dylan wrote that the Beatles “offered intimacy and companionship like no other group,” with the implied knowledge that intimacy is one of the scariest things in life, for it contains everything that is possible in human relationships. Intimacy is sometimes looking the other in the face in complete silence and not knowing. Intimacy is risking enough so that, if you lose the other, you might lose yourself. The Beatles’ ease was never the ease of knowing that every landing would be soft, or every revelation safe; theirs was the ease of surrendering, gladly and freely, a part of yourself that you’d never get back. To surrender to something as powerful and lovely as the Beatles, and as laden with promises of sadness and death – that was the intimacy they offered, the terrifying intimacy of lovers.
Though it’s full of screaming and it talks about pressure, Eight Days a Week is the wrong kind of easy. It’s as comfortable as going through high school yearbooks. It is soft, smooth, and shallow – the essence of nostalgia and of anodyne. I want so much more than this movie is giving. But the paradox is that its ease makes it difficult, at least while sitting, as I did, in a packed suburban theater with an adoring audience made mostly of white baby boomers – many of whom, surely, were in the Beatles’ concert audiences as kids – to know what that “so much more” might involve. Because what it does give is clearly useful and heartfelt. What should a film about the Beatles’ touring incarnation, from the arrogant innocence of ’63 to the seared disgust of ‘66, amount to, what should it give? Something you feel only in its absence. Something deeper than this, scarier; some vision taking in both the blissful scream and the bottomless hunger, the vertiginous height and grinding depth of Beatlemania. Something capturing and elaborating glimpses that were caught in previous documentaries: The Beatles Anthology, The Brian Epstein Story, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Something that sniffs out mystery and alienation, that doesn’t seek only a smile, a nod, a surge of warmth, a safe landing. Something not merely familiar, but intimate; something uncanny.