The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

For F*** Magazine

THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Richard Curtis, Larry Kane, Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver
Genre : Documentary
Run Time : 2h 18min
Opens : 3 November 2016

the-beatles-eight-days-a-week-posterIn 1964, after enjoying success in their home country, four Liverpudlian lads made their first appearance in the United States on The Ed Sullivan Show. The rest, as they say, is history, with said history chronicled here by filmmaker Ron Howard. This documentary splices together archival concert and interview footage, some of which is hitherto unseen, with present day interviews to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s experiences on the road. We glimpse lots of fainting, screaming female fans; see John, Paul, George and Ringo at their goofiest and most candid, and hear from currently-active artists and musicians about the impact the Beatles had on them when they were growing up.

With a maelstrom of bleakness and negativity seemingly unavoidable these days, everyone needs an ameliorating balm, and this wistful, joyous nostalgia trip should do the trick. While longtime devotees of the Fab Four probably know all the factoids about the band’s history by heart, it’s still fun spending time in their presence. There is an almost mythic air about the Beatles: they were not pre-fabricated by committee in Simon Cowell’s office, they rose from modest obscurity and swiftly dominated the world, millions of hysterical teenagers in the pockets of their tailored suits. The sociopolitical climate in the U.S. then was even more fraught with tension than it is now, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy fresh in the public’s minds. People needed to feel happy, and the Beatles were as happy-making as they come.

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In addition to their musical talent, the Beatles’ affability won them plenty of fans. For those of us who weren’t following their endeavours at the time (i.e. those who weren’t born yet), it’s a bit of a surprise to see how funny the Beatles were in their interactions with the press. When a TV reporter asks John “which one are you,” Lennon replies without missing a beat “I’m Eric.” The reporter believes him. The original manuscript with the lyrics of I Want to Hold Your Hand scrawled on it has a postscript that reads “3/10 – see me!” Writer/director Richard Curtis identifies the Beatles as the platonic ideal of friends one would want to hang out with – he doesn’t use the phrase, but basically, the Beatles were his squad goals. Because of how much the boys seem to be enjoying their fame and popularity, it’s all the more emotional to see it take a harsh toll on them, the documentary covering their dizzying highs and also their hollowest lows.

Those who dismissed the band as lacking artistic merit have since eaten their words. We love the Beatles, but perhaps when composer Howard Goodall puts them on the same pedestal as Mozart, saying the Beatles have a similar ratio of memorable melodies in their prolific output, that might be overstating it a tad. Just as we’ve referred to them in this review, the film treats the Beatles as a singular entity, a four-headed, mop-topped Hydra. While there’s no doubt that they functioned as a unit and that their creative partnership and friendship was their lifeblood, it would’ve been nice to see more of John, Paul, George and Ringo as individuals.

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Howard wants to document both the Beatlemania phenomenon and the lads themselves, but the balance is slightly weighted in favour of the former. It would seem that more than half the interviewees, including actors Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, were observers from the outside. Aside from the two living Beatles McCartney and Starr, the most insight is gleaned from Larry Kane, the broadcast journalist who spent the most time on the road with the band. Kane recounts how Lennon and McCartney consoled him following the death of Kane’s mother, and fondly recalls how he initially baulked at the assignment, thinking it wasn’t “real news”.

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In addition to the general frivolity that follows teen idols about, the film has its heavier moments. The Civil Rights movement was unfolding just as the Beatles reached the height of their popularity in the States, and their refusal to perform at a segregated arena in Alabama is credited with eventually causing other stadiums in the south to abolish segregated seating. We also see the Beatles at their most burned out, with Harrison remarking that it must’ve been really difficult for Elvis Presley, since he was just one guy but the Beatles had each other to lean on when things got rough. There’s a clarity to the film’s recounting of the whole “more popular than Jesus” hullabaloo, when Lennon’s remark about the band’s fame was taken out of context and led to religious groups boycotting the Beatles.

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Because the film’s focus is on “the touring years”, the period of time when the Beatles were their most esoteric and consequently most fascinating is glossed over. Just as Henry Jones Sr. remarked in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “you left just as you were becoming interesting”. In any case, Eight Days a Week does its subjects justice and is a delightful slice of pop culture pie. Stay past the end credits to watch the 1965 Shea Stadium concert. Alas, even after a remastering at Abbey Road Studios, the sound quality’s still not great.

Summary: It’s not especially incisive and there aren’t any explosive revelations for long-time Fab Four fans to take in, but Eight Days a Week is a pleasantly entertaining baby boomer time capsule.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Where to Invade Next

For F*** Magazine 

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT

Director : Michael Moore
Cast : Michael Moore, Krista Kiuru, Claudio Domenicali, Tim Walker, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
Genre : Documentary
Run Time : 121 mins
Opens : 28 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Nudity and Drug Use)

After a six-year-long hiatus from feature films, Michael Moore, the enfant terrible of documentary movies, has returned with a vengeance – but a vengeance of a friendly sort. It’s no secret that many Americans have become dissatisfied with their way of life, proclamations of the United States being “the greatest country on earth” getting harder and harder to make with a straight face. From income inequality to staggering student loans to unaffordable healthcare, the average 99%-er has a good deal to be frustrated about.

            Moore imagines that he’s been sent on a mission by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to suss out where in the world the United States should invade next. He embarks on a quest through several European countries and one North African one to see how the people do things differently from in the States.  In Italy, the average worker has eight weeks paid holiday, in France, students get nutritious gourmet school lunches and Finland’s top-ranked education system does away with standardised tests and excessive homework.

Next, Moore visits a coloured pencil factory in Germany where the employees work a total of 36 hours a week, he takes a tour of the surprisingly luxurious prisons in Norway, meets with female government and business leaders in Iceland and sees how Tunisia’s government has rebuilt itself after overthrowing a dictator, with more than 50% of its parliament being women at the present. He attempts to wrap his head around the free college education offered in Slovenia and Portugal’s complete decriminalisation of drug use. At the end of each segment, Moore plants an American flag in the ground wherever he is, proudly declaring that he’s come across another excellent idea that the U.S. can, uh, appropriate.

            Out of all the press screenings we’ve attended, the showing of Where to Invade Next probably drew the loudest laughter from the audience we’ve ever heard. Moore is known for being a confrontational firebrand, famously conducting ambush interviews and staging demonstrations as part of his films. This movie sees him gentler, albeit no less driven. All the interview subjects are willing participants, largely because they’re given platforms on which to wag a finger at Americans in general. The people whom Moore talks to range from schoolchildren to blue-collar workers to such luminaries as former Icelandic president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first democratically-elected female president, and current Slovenian president Borut Pahor.



            Most of the humour is derived from the sense that what we’re seeing in this panorama is all too good to be true. Two hour lunch breaks? A law against sending emails after work? Prescriptions for a three-week-long spa getaway to combat stress? Corrupt bankers actually getting sentenced to prison? Absurd! This could pretty much be called “The Grass Is Greener On the Other Side: The Movie”, and the scene of the interview subjects telling Moore how unbelievably good they have it, with a reaction shot of him looking slack-jawed, occurs multiple times. Moore also makes his point with infographics presenting bleak statistics, including one that demonstrates the slightly higher taxes in European countries afford their citizens greater benefits than the Average American has access to. As with his previous films, Moore also employs news footage and amateur video to make his point. The hardest-hitting of these is a montage of American inmates getting beaten up and otherwise abused by wardens and fellow prisoners – this is shown after Moore takes in the civilised and straight-up swanky prison facilities in Norway.

            The use of humour throughout makes the audience more amenable to Moore’s arguments, and in most cases, just how functional the societies being showcased are does speak for itself. While it is staggeringly one-sided, as is Moore’s modus operandi, the film is also compelling and persuasive. It does cover a great amount of ground, not just geographically but with regards to the subjects discussed as well. There’s a strong feminist component, with several powerful, successful women sharing what they do differently. There are a few jarring tonal shifts which work astoundingly well – we go from a former Mercedes CEO talking about how the company’s servers block emails sent by bosses after working hours, to a German classroom where the Holocaust is being taught, with the words “Why Remember?” written on the chalkboard. In another scene, Moore sits down with a Norwegian father whose son was gunned down at summer camp by extremist Anders Breivik. The film’s larger structure and context ensures these scenes do not feel awkwardly out of place.



            If you’re predisposed to despising Moore, Where To Invade Next might not make you do a 180 on the documentarian. As manipulative and imbalanced as it can get, Where To Invade Next does have an undercurrent of sincerity. Yes, Moore’s antics might primarily be for our entertainment, but there is a strong sense of purpose to the tour he embarks upon here and while it still has bite, it seems a lot less bitter than some of his other work. Is it all a progressive’s pipe dream? Probably, but the positivity that Moore exudes here does have its charm, and the work manages to be a thought-provoking one.

Summary: While it is heavily one-sided, Where To Invade Next sees Michael Moore weaving a fascinating, entertaining, educational and immensely funny travelogue, in which he asks “what can we learn from you?” rather than merely being the traditional idiot abroad.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong