21/09/16, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week
I didn't think the Cameo cinema would be near full on a Monday night, but then, I hadn't bargained for the enduring popularity of The Beatles. In a cinema culture where so many people want to see superheroes, from Batman to Avengers to the Justice League, here was an opportunity to see the real thing: four young men emerging from post-war austerity, possessing astonishing talent and emotional intelligence. In this film you can only admire how their bullshit-detectors are permanently on high as they navigate the weird, ultimately pointless excesses of fame. Throughout their young adulthood, they maintain their drive to develop without the manic distractions of wealth and fame, fan-worship or media provocation, as they change the world with their music. As Ringo says at one point, they felt sorry for Elvis Presley, who had to cope with it all on his own. The Beatles clung to each other in the maelstrom, in a phenomenon of idolatry arguably never seen before. Was this the first time the female gaze had become something so public? I've heard the screams of Elvis fans on grainy TV footage as he gyrated, but this was something else: entire stadiums of barely-controlled teenage girls screaming their lust at four sexually-objectified males. Had mankind ever seen anything like this before? Girls wanting to fuck: who knew?
Much of this documentary will already be known to many: The Beatles were no manufactured boy band in the modern sense: as teenage boys they went off to Hamburg's red-light bars to hone their musicianship and song-writing, with night after night of performance and practice. The reaction of female fans, upon their return though, caught Western culture unprepared – interviews with journalists in this documentary reveal their own shock at what was enfolding, a new teenage culture with inhibitions discarded, and law and order barely maintained where The Beatles toured.
So what did I learn? I didn't know about the racial aspect behind the scenes, how at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, The Beatles refused to play live to a segregated audience. Footage at the time reveals Paul McCartney speaking for the band against the madness of segregation. Their standard contract for live music is shown, with its final clause, saying The Beatles don't play to segregated audiences. One former fan who'd been there at the stadium, as a black girl among a crowd of white people, told of how that had been her first experience of being in a mixed public space.
So you come away from this documentary with many good thoughts. They're a bunch of nice guys, sharp, funny, talented, intelligent – as mentioned, of astonishing emotional intelligence. They remained unaffected by the kind of idolatry that became its own news, following them to the four corners of the globe. And just when the story seems to end, and they appear to reach the end of their road, as wealthy, fed-up young idols, they return to the studio and produce: Rubber Soul; Revolver; Sergeant Pepper. The documentary begins to finish up at this point, we don't see the bad days, the fall-out, we see little of The Magical Mystery Tour or Let It Be, or Abbey Road or The White Album, which for any other band would have been their be-all and end-all.I got up in the dark auditorium while everyone else remained; at the end of the documentary is a 35-minute segment of The Beatles' performance in Shea Stadium. I hung around to watch a few songs, then left into the cold night air. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were in my mind, two living super-humans, it's so moving just to see them still alive, unaffected, affectionately recalling a past that still pulls in the crowds. They make me feel very much a post-war person myself: I was born in 1975, so The Beatles are of my parents' generation, a generation that saw a world change from radio and trips to your closest seaside town, into a nuclear age, international travel, a TV age, an Internet age. Everything is different now, so much is changing so quickly. The Beatles' remaining members are as powerful a link as any to an older world that I look back to with affection. What an astonishing period of history it's been, these past sixty years. What a beautiful soundtrack we have, courtesy of four boys from Liverpool, John, Paul, George and Ringo.