PARIS, France, Sep 9 – A new documentary about the Beatles shows the toll Beatlemania took on them as they became “more popular than Jesus” at the height of their fame.
“Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years” the first authorised portrait of the Fab Four in almost half a century follows the band on the road for four years from their native Liverpool in 1962 through a series of gruelling US tours until the release of the album “Revolver”.
Hollywood director Ron Howard has unearthed a treasury of previously unseen footage of the band as well as material from John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono.
In one interview, Lennon confessed that the song “Help!” was quite literally a cry for help.
“It was real. I was singing ‘Help!’ and I meant it,” he said.
“There is no off-switch. It’s like you are a politician. You are on 24 hours a day… everyone wants a bit you.”
Such was the noise from their hysterical, mostly female fans that their concerts had become “a freak show”, he said. “The music wasn’t being heard.”
Drummer Ringo Starr recalled how he “couldn’t hear anything. I was watching John’s arse and Paul’s head shaking to see where we were in the song.”
“We always felt sorry for Elvis because he was on his own” dealing with the demands of fame, said guitarist George Harrison, whose widow Olivia also co-operated with the project.
“At least there were four of us, so we shared the experience.”
Paul McCartney admitted that the four were so strung out that they “spent a lot of (the time on the set of the film ‘Help!’) slightly stoned”.
It was only when they retreated into the studio with their producer George Martin that the band was able to get its mojo back, the songwriter added.
“Eight Days a Week” which takes it title from a Beatles’ song is being released in cinemas worldwide for special one-off screenings on September 15. Afterwards it will be available online through the Disney-owned video on demand operator Hulu.
It is being shown alongside a newly discovered 30-minute segment of the band’s now legendary 1965 concert in New York’s Shea Stadium when they played in front of 56,000 screaming fans.
Howard, the former “Happy Days” television star who has directed such acclaimed films as “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind”, said he thought he knew what fame entailed until he began “working on this film and realised the unimaginable chaos these guys experienced.
“Like many people, I thought I knew The Beatles,” the director said in production notes to the movie. “But I didn’t really know the intensity” of Beatlemania.
“It’s pretty jaw-dropping stuff to see” some of the crowd-sourced footage ferreted out by researchers working for the Beatles’ record company, Apple, he said.
The band were mobbed wherever they went, overwhelming police forces across the world, with 240 fans ending up in hospital after one 1964 concert in Vancouver, Canada.
The documentary also shows how the Beatles refusal to play to segregated audiences in the American South was instrumental in forcing venues there to lift the colour bar.
“I knew (the Beatles) were drawn into the anti-Vietnam war movement at a certain point,” Howard said, “but I had no idea about this, and as an American, to recognise that these guys from the outside were coming in and saying this… was a very courageous thing.”
But for the two surviving members McCartney, now 74, and 76-year-old Starr who have given the film their blessing the real pleasure was seeing their younger selves play.
They never saw the Beatles, McCartney joked.
“I think the basic thing about the Beatles is that we were a great little band,” he added.
“So to see us performing as a band is a great thing, because without that, we couldn’t have made the records. That was the foundation of everything we recorded.”