FOR people in Asia who remember the Sixties, The Beatles did make a stopover in Bangkok. They also stopped over in Hong Kong and Japan.
Thanks to their movie ‘Hard Day’s Night’ and later ‘Help!’ they were as famous, if not more notorious, than Elvis, Pat Boone and other rock stars at the time.
The British band’s worldwide tour is today largely forgotten. But no more as Ron Howard has made a film to replay this incredible period.
‘Eight Days a Week’ may well be one of the top contenders at next year’s Academy Awards. It could also earn Howard his second Oscar.
Rave reviews and a rousing response to the movie have made the 99-minute spectacle the surprise hit in a summer dogged by mega Hollywood flops and misfires.
In London, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were reunited for the walk down memory lane at the premiere of ‘Eight Days.’
The duo, who both wrote songs and sang, posed for photographs on a blue carpet in Leicester Square. The show drew hundreds of cheering fans as well as celebrities such as Madonna, Eric Clapton, Bob Geldof and Liam Gallagher.
The film traces the band’s tours as McCartney, Starr along with the late John Lennon and George Harrison won legions of adoring fans across continents.
It features footage of early performances at the Cavern Club in their native Liverpool, packed shows around the globe and their final concert in 1966 in San Francisco.
“We’re all excited, it is the first time for us too,” Starr told the crowd about seeing the documentary.
The film makes use of a rich archive of old footage – pictures, videos and audio recordings – of the band at the height of Beatlemania, with screaming fans, snippets of the cheekiness of the then young men and the group at work in the studio. Celebrities recalling seeing them perform also add their voices. But it was not always easy.
The Beatles’ living conditions during their first Hamburg gigs could be deemed less than rudimentary. The four lived in a windowless concrete-walled storage room at the back of a small movie theater.
Lacking any heat, they were provided with British flags for makeshift blankets on their bunks. After playing onstage all night, they would grab a few hours of sleep before being awoken by the sound of a film show.
“Hamburg was kind of messy, having to sleep all together in one room – there was no bathroom or anything,” recalls Harrison.
The closest thing they had to facilities was the ladies’ restroom next door, which could be heard – as well as smelled – from their beds. There they washed and shaved with water from the toilets.
When the Beatles received their heroes’ welcome in New York City barely three years later in February 1964, they were put up at the ultra-luxe Plaza Hotel.
The band and their entourage occupied nearly the entire 12th floor, including the 10-room presidential suite. Despite the space, the four friends retired to smaller quarters.
“We had the whole floor in the Plaza, and the four of us ended up in the bathroom just to get a break from the incredible pressure,” remembers Starr.
‘Eight Days a Week’ offers the chance to hear the first time the Beatles were played over US radio on December 17th, 1963, an event that was as crucial as the band’s television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show a few months later.
There is also the issue of civil rights. The band’s first full-scale US tour in the summer of 1964 brought them through the Deep South and face to face with segregation for the first time.
The band was shocked by the practice, and vehemently opposed it. McCartney made his feelings known to DJ Larry Kane, who accompanied the group on their tour.
“It’s a bit silly to segregate people,” he said at the time. “I just think it’s stupid. You can’t treat other human beings like animals. That’s the way we all feel, and that’s the way people in England feel, because there’s never any segregation in concerts and England – and if there was we wouldn’t play ’em.”
When the tour reached Jacksonville, Florida., seats at the Gator Bowl were to be separated by race, but the band refused to perform until they were assured that the audience would be mixed.
Rather than risk a riot of disappointed Beatle fans, the promoters acquiesced, integrating the venue and setting a precedent for all future Beatle performances to come.
“We played to people,” says Starr. “We didn’t play to those people or that people. We just played to people.” It is a stunning celebration of the band’s origins.
“We started off as four mates in a great little band and we kept playing and playing and all this stuff happened,” McCartney said.
Director Howard says apart from getting help from McCartney and Starr, Lennon’s and Harrison’s widows, Yoko Ono and Olivia, also contributed to the project.
The director, known for films such as ‘Da Vinci Code,’ ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Apollo 13,’ said directing the documentary had been “a great experience.”
“It first began as just a fun, cool, creative adventure, then I became very intimidated by it when I realized how important it was to fans,” he told reporters.
The film also won praises from music journals such as Rolling Stone.
“Howard’s long-awaited documentary fills in some crucial back stories to The Beatles’ success,” it said,
Released just after the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ final concert, it is a whirlwind celebration of their touring life.
“What’s more, it challenges the traditional notion that the group’s live career was little more than fondly remembered hysteria that ultimately led to more important work,” the magazine said.
“We just wanted to play,” Ringo Starr says early in the film. “Playing was the most important thing.”
“By the end, it became quite complicated, but at the beginning things were really simple,” said McCartney in voiceover.
Simple isn’t always bad. Before they became technical recording masters, the Beatles were, as McCartney says, “a great little rock & roll band”.
‘Eight Days a Week’ lets you experience them like never before, and feel the frenzy of those thrilling years that came and went much too fast.
TOP: The Beatles movie ‘Eight Days a Week.’
INSET: McCartney and Starr at the premiere of ‘Eight Days a Week.’
By Cimi Suchontan