Ron Howard's documentary captures the Beatles's youth and irreverence on the road
Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director of ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’, doesn’t sound like the most obvious choice to direct a documentary about The Beatles, being neither a regular doc-maker nor, as he admits, much of a music nut. But he has gathered some eye-grabbing archive and lively interviews, old and new, for what turns out to be a sparky, moving and funny film about John, Paul, George and Ringo – whose own youthful words provide the film’s best moments, especially when they’re sparring with overly serious journalists. ‘It’s not culture,’ laughs Paul. ‘It’s a good laugh.’
Howard takes a fairly conventional, talking-heads-plus-clips approach to the project (and some of those heads are a bit random – Malcolm Gladwell? Eddie Izzard?). But still, he manages to make the best known story in pop sound fresh, and his film is strong on communicating a sense of exactly what was new about The Beatles at the time. His main focus is on them as a live outfit, and especially their tours of the US between 1964 and 1966; the film acts as a showcase for a lot of previously unseen footage. Howard is good at capturing the wit and camaraderie of the lads, put through the wringer of intense live and recording schedules from the time they made it big in 1963 until they decided in 1966 to quit gigging and focus on recording.
What Howard offers most is a US perspective on the band’s success, and there are especially strong sections on the band’s outrage at racial segregation and Lennon getting into hot water with religious conservatives for comparing the Beatles’ popularity with that of Jesus. The absence of George and John is felt keenly, but Paul and Ringo are a pleasure to listen to as ageing raconteurs.