Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“Eight Days a Week,” Ron Howard’s new documentary on the Beatles’ touring years, isn’t anything new, and yet it caused me to see its subject in a new light. Like similar works it uses the Beatles as a proxy for what we think of as the ’60s. Yet that familiarity has a purpose. Because of it, and because the character and dramatic arc of his subject are so well known, Howard never has to push his POV; his themes emerge organically — and perhaps only semi-intentionally — from the material, so that you become aware of them almost before you’ve had a chance to make mental note of them. It’s the kind of picture that’s all the more suggestive for being so straightforward.
The movie is most novel when it’s striking semi-sinister notes. Howard gives us the Beatles not just as a force of youth and vitality, but as agents of entropy, anxiety, and fin-de-siècle enervation. Their American performances in particular are presented so as to foreground their ominous elements. Watching them I found myself wondering: Is it possible that what made the foursome so exciting was their packaging of irresistible and overwhelming force within a container so outwardly benign? There are moments during their live performances when this modest container seems inadequate, as though it were bulging outward in a futile attempt to accommodate whatever it is that’s roiling inside of it. And the kids screaming in the audience do more than anticipate the impending explosion; they incarnate their idea of it.
The Beatles entered America in New York greeted by what seemed like an outpouring of joy. Three years later, after their last American performance in Chicago, they exited the venue in what one member describes as an “armored meat wagon.” They’d come to embody a societal change that neither they nor anyone else had the power to anticipate let alone control — and they were scared for their safety. By the time they quit touring that change threatened to tear the country apart. Woodstock and Altamont loomed on the horizon. In “War and Peace” Tolstoy wonders if Napoleon was an agent of the Revolution or merely a particle in the wave caused by its energy. Ultimately he abandons the question, declaring it impossible to identify the mysterious force by which a people is made to move. In “Eight Days a Week” one can see the people moving, and the Beatles being swept along with them.