A modest bar is wisely set and gracefully cleared in “Eight Days a Week,” Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles. So much has been written and recorded about the band that the best any filmmaker can do is shear off a bit of the story and zoom in for a closer look. “Eight Days a Week,” subtitled “The Touring Years,” presents The Beatles as a young band circling the globe at a feverish pace — from their early club gigs in 1962 to their final show in 1966 — out of fear that the world might soon forget them. Howard’s film manages the neat trick of bringing the pop-cultural gods known as Ringo, Paul, John and George down to human scale.
The film began as an idea from the production company One Voice One World, which rather impressively found never-seen Beatles footage. Most of it comes from fans; one woman discovered film of the band walking out to play their last concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, under her bed. These and other gorgeously restored clips — from a rousing 1963 rave-up at the ABC Cinema in Manchester to a tuckered-out Tokyo show in 1966 — give the movie a narrative arc and help illustrate why The Beatles eventually fled to the safety of the studio.
In interviews, surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr serve as our ever-gracious band ambassadors. Many other interviewees, like the comedian Eddie Izzard or the filmmaker Richard Curtis, seem chosen solely because they’re famous. Still, Howard strikes gold with Dr. Kitty Oliver, who recalls how The Beatles pressured the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, into racially integrating its audience for the first time in 1964. To a teenager who would grow up to be a black historian, the concert proved that “those differences could disappear, at least for a little while.”
“Eight Days a Week” will be available on Hulu beginning Saturday, but theatrical screenings will be accompanied by “The Beatles at Shea Stadium,” a 30-minute chronicle of their historic show on Aug. 15, 1965. Restored with stunning visual and sonic clarity, it’s a long-awaited holy grail for Beatles fans and a you-are-there experience worth having.