The first question that is inevitably asked about a new Beatles documentary is whether or not it can say anything fresh about such a well-known story. By deciding to focus on The Beatles’ touring years (1962-1966), Ron Howard is able to marshal famous interviews alongside previously unseen footage to give the audience a real insight into the tumultuous peak of Beatlemania.
The Beatles achieved a popularity that had no precedent and that, to this day, has no equal. The film shows the band as they reach stratospheric heights of success in America, before they went on to conquor every corner of the planet. Situating the story against the backdrop of the JFK assassination and the Civil Rights movement, the band arrived into a fractured American society. Whoopi Goldberg, a young girl in the 60’s, speaks in the film of how The Beatles seemed to have no colour; only an obvious love of fun which was all inclusive. Indeed, there is footage of an interview in which Paul refused to entertain the idea of playing to a segregated crowd. However the sheer impossibility of playing music to 50,000 screaming fans led The Beatles to end touring permanently in 1966.
‘The band arrived into a fractured American society. Whoopi Goldberg, a young girl in the 60’s, speaks in the film of how The Beatles seemed to have no colour; only an obvious love of fun which was all inclusive.’
This is a superb documentary, and its greatest success is in the presentation of the band themselves. The strength of the four’s relationships seemed to save them from losing their identities in the great entity that was The Beatles, from which it is clear that they felt some distance. McCartney later describes how the touring years took their toll on the band, forcing them to grow-up and to grow apart. After 1966 they played live together only once. The footage of this performance, on a London rooftop in 1969, is a poignant end to the film and it is incredible to think that all four were still in their twenties when the band broke-up the following year.
(Image courtesy of White Horse Pictures)