Director: Ron Howard
Apple Corps Ltd./Imagine Entertainment/White Horse Pictures
The first clue that this new Beatles documentary might not be necessary, nor all that great was the sheer number of people “popping off” about it on Facebook. That was a big clue. Seeing it confirmed this. Ron Howard here offers nothing new and everything safe in a rather cynically-aimed, smiley-happy run through of the Beatlemania climax, the fandom, the U.S touring, the band eventually doing away with playing live. We’ve seen – and heard – this all before. And if you haven’t well, sure, you might well have enjoyed this but it’s a safe and easy re-treading of a well-worn story, relying on the footage first used in far better films (The First US Visit) and reused already in plenty of far better documentaries (most obviously The Compleat Beatles and Anthology). And bloody Richie Cunningham colourises some of the great B&W footage too!
Worse than that he calls on Eddie Izzard and Richard Curtis to speak – who fucking cares? – and Sigourney Weaver and Whoopi Goldberg?! That they saw shows of the time seems less important than the fact that they’re famous.
There are still angles on Beatlemania left to poke sticks around – the novels, biographies, biopics will attest to that. But clearly The Beatles’ aura is on the wane. There’s a whole generation out there now happily unaware of the band and the hysteria and not at all interested in catching up. This film is part of an extensive campaign to keep making money for Beatles Inc. But more than that to – absurd as you might think it sounds – raise awareness. You get the feeling the film exists as much to promote the “soundtrack” – a touched up version of audio that’s been out there in bootleg-land forever. (Rather than the other way around).
There are some nice moments in the film of course – further proof that Ringo was crucial, that he is the glue to their live playing. It’s all about him and John Lennon’s rock’n’roll voice. And we get little snippets of their cheeky-monkey press conferences and the camaraderie all but forced on them. The best of this footage is just straight from the aforementioned docos.
The more you read into this film the safer and more cynical (in a marketing sense) it seems. Built for a mainstream audience, given to them on a plate by the softly-softly, safe pair of hands that is Ron Howard. He touches on the “Bigger than Jesus” remarks but won’t weigh in on the ugliness of the fallout when The Beatles snubbed Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines – in The Compleat Beatles that’s as viscerally charged and palpable as the scandal around religion. It’s part of the road-scars that were important in The Beatles calling an end to touring.
No, instead wheel out rosy-cheeked interviews with Ringo and Sir Macca. Both try their best to be interesting – but how can they be? They’ve said this all so many times.
Roll out celebrity talking heads. Make a token gesture towards the discussion of race – Whoopi Goldberg has an interesting take on The Beatles bringing together black and white but there’s no probing into the fact that The Beatles somewhat ‘stole the jobs’ of many of the musicians they idolised. Similarly, we have it put to us that these nice chaps refused to play to segregated audiences. Well Ray Charles and Sam Cooke (and a few others) had taken that stand long before The Fab Four. No mention though. Not part of the narrative.
No, the narrative ends – nice and clean – with no real in-fighting. We gloss over the classic studio albums, their iconic covers flick across the screen in seconds and we are sent off if not a wiggle in our stride then at least with a whistle on our lips via footage – again, already seen and used over and again – of the rooftop performance; the last time The Beatles would play together as The Beatles.
We’re meant to bask in Beatlemania all over again. But the end result is somewhat reduced, diminished.
What made that magical music wasn’t the camaraderie and witticisms, it was the withering stares and competition, the arrogance and insouciance – the bubble built up around them, the fallout from the touring years, the baggage. That, in the end, was what made The Beatles. This glad-hand-job to ‘the 10,000 hours’ wasn’t needed. Particularly given the actual 10,000 hours happened long before they cut the collars of the suits and slipped on the Beatle boots…but never let a little place like Hamburg get in the way of a narrative that seems to want to suggest that what made The Beatles great was America. The “Touring Years” is really about America’s part in Beatlemania. Here its miscast as the making of the band when it was very nearly the breaking of them.