When it was released last fall, Ron Howard’s award-winning documentary about the Beatles caused a sensation with distribution at a few select theaters and a Hulu streaming option. Now available on Amazon, no self-respecting Beatle fan will need to wait to see this spectacular inside-look at the historical rise of the mop-tops from Liverpool.
Beatlemania, for those of us who lived it, meant engaging with John, Paul, George, and Ringo as a deep, personal level that still resonates more than 50 years after the “invasion” and that famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. They had already taken over England; now they were destined to make it in America.
Howard pulls together never-before-seen footage, laced with original ‘60s interviews and newsreels, personal fan footage, and occasional contemporary reflections from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The pace and the mix that Howard creates maximizes the swirl of excitement and the sheer energy of those moments. Beatle fans everywhere will remember that electrical exhilaration well, and this documentary brings it all back.
Tapping into archives, as well as recordings provided by the Beatles’ 40 million Facebook fans who answered the call for amateur footage, Howard never misses an opportunity to tell the story seamlessly and with grace.
If the Beatles are onstage in Liverpool, he establishes the scene, jump cuts to the screaming audience members, and then brings the song they’re singing into sharp focus for the whole performance. Once they make the Billboard charts, a timeline often appears at the bottom of the screen complete with the number of weeks a particular song stayed in the number one position.
As their fame and popularity increase, the crowds become bigger and wilder. When they make the decision to stop touring and go into the studio, they return to their artistic roots to produce the most acclaimed record of all time, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
The film takes the audience through the chronology from the early history all the way to their last public performance. When chance and geography brought these four distinctive personalities together in Liverpool, the world and a generation of Beatle fans would be forever changed.
Paul and Ringo are still touring. If you have plans to see either of them, take a look at this documentary. You’ll either appreciate them in a whole new light, or be brought back to those days when you were young, and Beatlemania was in your blood.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews since 1999.