Originally written and posted to Facebook on 5.10.2016
You’d think there’d be nothing more to say or learn about the Beatles, but I found this documentary film by Ron Howard absorbing and interesting throughout its considerable length.
Yes, I was a conventional sixties teenager and had the even more conventional crush on Paul McCartney. The first records (kids, ask your parents – make that your grandparents – what a record is) I ever bought were the first two Beatles albums. But I’m not one of those babyboomer Beatles tragics who’ll crack out the early stuff and inflict it on party guests. It was groundbreaking and original at the time, but it was basically catchy pop with shallow teen love preoccupations.
As one of the talking heads in this doco says: It was a long way from ‘She loves you yeah yeah yeah’ and ‘I wanna hold your hand’ to this: ‘Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure/Did she understand it when they said/That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure/Will she still believe it when he’s dead?’
This film is subtitled ‘The Touring Years’, and Howard shows us all the old familiar footage of surging crowds and screaming girls, but this time round he wants to show us a different perspective: he wants to show us how sudden dizzying fame and success affected these four young men and how it accelerated their emotional and professional maturing.
We hear a lot from The Beatles themselves: George Harrison reminding us that he was only seventeen when Epstein sent them off to Hamburg, one of Europe’s most notorious fleshpots; John Lennon explaining that he wasn’t trying to be flippant or offensive when he compared their fame to that of Jesus Christ. (We don’t usually see the full version of this footage, and it’s good to be reminded how serious and intelligent he could be at a press conference.)
The surviving Beatles took part. Paul McCartney talks about how he and John went about their songwriting, laid-back Ringo adds detail about how they tired of the rigours of touring. (It occurred to me that Ringo has aged better than Paul – who’da thunk it? Maybe my old flame should never have given up meat. Joke, mainly.)
For some reason we don’t see much about the women in their lives, not even Yoko (seen only standing passively by during the Concert on the Roof). Bit of a pity – the personal romantic stuff always adds sauce to a story – but we do learn a lot about the musical development of one of the greatest bands of the 20th century.