Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Oscar-winner Ron Howard takes on The Beatles with his Eight Days A Week rockumentary

Oscar-winning film-maker Ron Howard tells Russell Baillie why his Eight Days a Week isn’t just another Beatles documentary.

Come to think of it, Ron Howard is the perfect guy to make a movie about how the Beatles changed the world.

Yes, he may be the director of solid Hollywood features, often about remarkable men - Rush, Frost/Nixon, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13.

But when it comes to the Fab Four, Howard has an extra qualification.

It's that he kind of represents America before the Beatles. Or did when he was an actor.

His Richie Cunningham lived those Happy Days from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s. His first major film role was in George Lucas' coming of age movie American Graffiti set in a 1963 world of bobby-soxers and greasers. And back in the actual 1960s, Howard was on television as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show.

He was a 10-year-old Hollywood kid when the Beatles broke into America. Like much of America, he saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.

"When my 10th birthday came on March 1, all I wanted was Beatle boots and a Beatle wig. They couldn't find the Beatle boots but they came up with the wig. And I wore it all through the party," laughs Howard down the line from London where he's been putting some finishing sound touches on the film.

Eight Days a Week sheds new light on the story of The Beatles.
Eight Days a Week sheds new light on the story of The Beatles.

Over the years he met three Beatles. Ringo Starr and drinking budding Who drummer Keith Moon once turned up on the set of Happy Days ("Ringo just barely remembers that") while John Lennon visited too, with his son Julian.

He met Paul McCartney the night he won the best director Oscar for A Beautiful Mind and McCartney was up for best original song for Vanilla Sky.

Still, having your two of your childhood idols - Starr and McCartney - turn up to be interviewed about the good old days was slightly unnerving, says Howard.

"Oh yeah. Without a doubt - you feel it in the room when they walk in. And of course, this is what they've been living with for over 50 years now."

Howard was approached about making a film about the years of Beatlemania and the band as a live entity after he directed Made in America, a 2013 doco about a music festival of the same name founded by Jay-Z.

Howard saw some of the footage the producers had already collected and read a couple of books about the era.

Seeing what the Beatles went through - whether it was refusing to play segregated shows in the American South, causing diplomatic incidents in the Philippines and Japan, or finding themselves bundled into security vans to make it in and out of the first stadium shows in rock history, Howard saw a narrative emerging.

"What I saw in it was a kind of ensemble survival story."

A rock'n'roll Apollo 13?

"A little bit. It very much is that kind of odyssey. And what they really have is each other. I thought it was very interesting to understand what it was like to go through that period, that gauntlet of Beatlemania, from inside that world. And also to understand all of the turmoil and turbulence of the societal change that was going on globally and how that affected them and how they affected it."

The early days of the Fab Four.
The early days of the Fab Four.

Telling the story from the eye of the gathering storm brought it some challenges. There just wasn't a lot of live footage of the band's early days, though elsewhere the film uses recently unearthed footage from the Beatles' final 1966 concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park.

For another, the predominant sound on the concert footage is not Twist and Shout, but screaming.

Howard's worked out a guiding principle in what to alter visually or sonically. "The mandate was this: 'Try and recreate an experience which allows you to feel more what it would have been like to be there.'

"So that kind of was our overall guiding mantra about when to colourise and when not to. When to alter the mix and when not to.

"We've kind of been back and forth between letting the songs really come to life and occasionally crushing it down and really letting you know what it was like to be there when you can barely hear them."

The movie is a co-production of Howard's Imagine Entertainment, Apple Corps which regularly finds new ways to market the Beatles, and White Horse Pictures which specialises in rockumentaries.

In the United States it's getting a cinematic release before becoming available on streaming service Hulu. The movie is released with a remastered and remixed version of the live album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl which will add four extra songs from the shows which were originally recorded in 1964 and 1965.

Eight Days A Week briefly shows the Beatles in New Zealand in 1964, receiving a traditional greeting at Wellington Airport. And there is early footage of the band in Liverpool through to their last appearance in front of the cameras together, on top of the Apple Offices in London's Savile Row in 1969.

Some of the footage will be familiar to long-time Beatlemaniacs.

But Eight Days A Week still catches the band heading into orbit, spinning out of control, then safely splashing down into life as a non-touring studio band for the rest of the decade.

"I wanted to be responsible to all the people who really know, love and are encyclopaedic about The Beatles.

"But I really wanted to offer something up to the people who are kind of casual fans - millennials who have grown up with it and they think they understand something about the Beatles but they don't really know just how powerful the story was or what the impact was on the world."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Ron Howard
What: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years
When: In cinemas from Friday, Sep 16.

- TimeOut

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