lunes, 26 de septiembre de 2016

Film review: Eight Days A Week and Shea

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Film review: Eight Days A Week and Shea
Posted by Roger Stormo
Monday, September 26, 2016 


Here's a map of the Beatles tours as assembled by the pre-production crew of the film. Why not animate it and use it? It would have told more of a story than what this film managed to do.

Beatles tours.

"The Beatles Live Project" looked promising. They were going to assemble amateur footage shot by the audience at Beatles concerts and use that to tell the story of The Beatles touring years 1962 to 1966. The definitive story. The first drafts of the film went something like this: Four complete live songs by the Beatles, then a bit of storytelling, another four live songs, and another bit of storytelling – and so on for a cut of the film which lasted two hours and twenty minutes.

But then they brought in Hollywood director Ron Howard and everything changed. What did we get? We got sort of an "extra disc" to the Anthology DVD series. Short clips and celebrity talking heads. Okay, perhaps this is a more entertaining film for a broader audience, at the cost of alienating us Beatles fans. Plus, you're no longer telling the story about the touring years. What the story in the film is, is this: The Beatles are touring North America, and the mania forces them to end touring and concentrate on their record career instead. The concerts the Beatles gave in other countries is just added as a sprinkle of spice to the story. We also get an insight into what the Beatles did in the recording studio, and we leave them in January 1969, when they once again and for the last time gave a live concert.

The scope of the film changed, and with that we are left with a half hearted summing up of sorts of the Beatles as a live touring band. If you are going to really tell the story of the Beatles tours, you need to tell them about the time that Jimmy Nicol on the brink of a world tour had to replace a hospitalised Ringo Starr for the first part of that tour. If you leave Jimmy out, you are not really telling the story of The Beatles on tour. You can spot him briefly in the film on a canal boat in Amsterdam, but his presence is never explained. And a lot of other people are missing, too. There's not even a brief mention of Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. Hamburg is barely touched upon. The years 1962 and 1963 are all but non-existant in this film. Yes, we do get wonderful colour film from Manchester, courtesy of the Pathé film "The Beatles Come To Town" and outtake footage from that film, but the soundtrack of the two songs there, "Twist and Shout" and "She Loves You" is from Hollywood Bowl 1964! But what about the December 1963 Liverpool Empire songs? What about the Royal Variety show? Most importantly, what about their dry run tour of Sweden? Now that was their first ever tour of a foreign country, their first taste of Beatlemania outside the U.K. and the girls of Sweden – who had already formed a Swedish Beatles Fan Club. We get about two seconds from the television programme they participated in while in Sweden, "Drop In". And don't forget, the Beatles arrived back in London from their tour of Sweden at the exact same moment that Ed Sullivan was leaving London for USA, and he took notice of the commotion at the airport where hundreds of fans were waiting for The Beatles to arrive! How about that hard winter tour of the UK in 1963 in their van, Mal Evans behind the wheel? See their "Words Of Love" promo for a glimse of that. Mal, their one man road crew should have been profiled, and he wasn't. Instead, an American roadie who helped out Mal and Neil at the 1966 tour is interviewed.

A lot of footage originally filmed in black and white had been colourised for this film: the Washington DC concert film, the press conference at the airport in New York, Lennon's apology at the press conference in Chicago, "Help!" from the Blackpool 1965 concert and "Can't Buy Me Love" from the NME Poll Winners Concert. The colorised footage was a hit and miss sort of thing which mainly missed, with orange skin tones, orange tongues and black and white between the hair and the ears. I would rather have them spend this money on getting more rare footage!

And when it came to the concerts, audio producer Giles Martin used the same tactic that he employed for his soundtrack to the "A Hard Day's Night"-film, he recorded and overdubbed the sound of individually screaming girls of today to the images. This was done every time the film zoomed in on a smaller group of girls, and also onto the Shea Stadium film, which we saw after the main feature.

Some fakery which should have been edited out: The fake Shea Stadium poster, and a black and white shot of the current front door sign of Abbey Road Studios. It wasn't even named Abbey Road Studios at the time, and later in the film we see the real sixties EMI Studios door sign, so why keep in that latter day one?

Fake Shea Stadium poster.

Paul and Ringo are rehashing stories that they misremember, like McCartney still maintaining that they held out playing in the USA until they got a hit single. Come on, the Ed Sullivan Show was booked way before they ever knew that they were going to get a hit record over there.

I first saw this film last Tuesday at a press showing, and again two days later on Thursday 22 September along with an audience. In fact it was a full house here in Oslo at the biggest theatre in the cinema complex. And it seemed the audience loved it. I knew I was in good company when the Apple logo appearing on the screen in the beginning of the film got a round of applause! People were genuinely entertained and laughter and applause followed a lot of the scenes. As for the Shea film, this had first generationers singing along, as if they were attending a karaoke film or - indeed, a concert. Most of the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves (the handful of people who left before Shea were probably the disappointed ones) and the film was favourably reviewed on Facebook by the people I knew in the audience - most of them members of Norwegian Wood, the Beatles fan club of Norway.

And I was entertained too, I'm not ashamed of admitting that. But still, I think Ron Howard went and ruined the film – it would have been better without him. Because what did he bring to the table? Well, for one thing – he removed most of the concert footage and brought in the talking heads. And then he emphasized the North American tours at the cost of all the other concerts the Beatles gave in the rest of the world. That's no documentary, that's revisionism! The one person who had anything interesting to come up with, was Larry Kane – because he was actually there with them. The rest of the talking heads just took up space which could have been used to show The Beatles. They had spent money on interviewing even more celebrities for the film, but these were later cut out, and I do believe on the insistence of Ringo - who saw a version with all the talking heads and didn't approve.

One thing Howard accomplished, was to bring new light to the fact that The Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences. This is a well known fact for us Beatle buffs, but it hasn't been very publicly known, or rather, it has been forgotten about. It's a fact which certainly has historical significance and plays a part in the liberation of the black communities of USA. And this aspect of the film was used to promote the film before it was even released. Great, well done!

I had really high hopes for this film, but the result is at best a forgery. The best way to see this film is to start with no expectations or knowledge whatsoever. Because then it is actually quite entertaining. It is better the second time you view it than the first, because then you're prepared for its limitations. We didn't need the Beatles in the studio or filming "A Hard Days Night" and "Help!". And as much as we love to see footage from the Apple rooftop concert in 1969 (and here we did get previously unseen footage from "I've Got A Feeling"), it falls outside the scope of the theme of the film. And it's not because there's any lack of material from live performances between 1963 and 1966 which could have been shown instead. On the contrary, The Beatles as a performing band during their touring years is vastly undercommunicated here – because of all the concert footage that exists but isn't used! We miss Holland, we miss Germany 1966, we miss Australia! There's way too little from Japan and the Philippines story is grossly underplayed. Manila was as much a nail in the coffin for The Beatles' touring career as the Ku Klux Klan and Beatle record bonfires. Thank goodness for that 2014 documentary, "When The Beatles Drove Us Wild" and other, unofficial documentaries who tell us more of the true story. Lacking as they may be in the music departement, they give us more footage of The Beatles on tour, as well as insightful interviews with people in the Beatles' entourage.

Eight Days A Week is an entertaining film for a broad audience and once we had abandoned the idea that this was a film about The Beatles on tour, it was enjoyable. And of course, they brought us snippets of things we hadn't seen before, "Roll Over Beethoven" filmed in colour in Stockholm 1964 especially comes to mind. But this means that the definitive film about The Beatles on Tour can still be made. And it should be a TV series with 8 hour long episodes. One about 1960-1963, three episodes covering 1964, two about 1965 and two about 1966. They have gathered enough material for this, material which didn't make it to the final cut of Eight Days A Week. And a home video edition with bonus material in the form of complete or near complete concerts. That would have been satisfactory for Beatle fans, and possibly overkill for the man on the street. Historically though, that's the kind of approach The Beatles are worthy of – and not this fragment.

When the film premiered in Liverpool, it was prefaced by two short films: An introduction by Paul, Ringo and Ron Howard especially addressing the Liverpool audience (and Howard openly admitting that he had never been to Liverpool but really wanted to visit some time), and an 11 minutes long film where people from Liverpool were interviewed. Only there did you hear from people like Allan Williams, Joe Flannery, Beryl Marsden, Freda Kelly, and siblings Beryl Williams and Barry Chang who went along to Hamburg with the Beatles. And in Japan, more footage from The Beatles' visit to Tokyo was shown. The latter two films will be included as bonus features on the home cinema release, deluxe edition.

The audience audibly present


It was very nice to see and hear The Beatles at Shea Stadium on the big screen and with good sound – although the volume was a little low during the screenings I attended. With a monumental stadium like Shea, you really want to have really loud audio to convey the atmosphere of being there. The audio was not only remixed but also substituted by Giles Martin and was a mishmash of this and that. "Twist And Shout" is mostly the studio version with added audience noise, "Act Naturally" is from the concert, but with the guitar solos added from the studio version, "Baby's In Black" is again a mix of the concert and the studio version, "Help!" is the 1966-version they recorded at CTS especially for the Shea film soundtrack, and "She's A Woman" is from the Hollywood Bowl! The sound is very narrow stereo or even mono, with a stereo effect on the audience. The picture quality is probably as good as it gets, it was filmed in 35mm but I do believe that the film was sometimes zoomed in to focus on the lead singers and that meant a drop in quality during those scenes only. Again, this was already present in the original version and there seems to be no outtake footage available, so it is what it is. Seemed to me the film wasn't very much edited at all, from the 1966 TV version, which means that outtakes of George with his Gretsch guitar from the missing "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" appears in "A Hard Day's Night" in between him playing the Rickenbacker. Fan edits of the Shea Stadium film has rectified this, but it's kept in here. It was really nice to hear Ringo sing "Act Naturally" live (with his hi-hat work leaking into the vocals), he did a good enough job of it so it was never really needed to have the original film featuring the record as a soundtrack back in 1966.

I do hope that Apple elects to release The Beatles At Shea Stadium in full at some point in the future, and with an option to hear the real concert soundtrack instead of this mashup Martin version, for those of us who prefer historical accuracy.

There's a very good two hours long podcast discussing Howard's film and the Shea film, which includes important interviews with insiders working with the production crew, Chuck Gunderson and Erik Taros. It's hosted by Robert Rodriguez and Richard Buskin.  You can find it here.

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