If we weren’t talking about the most popular, iconic rock band in the history of the Western world, it might be tempting to consider this story as a bit of a tragedy: how an effervescent quartet of terrific live performers was pushed by their own fame off the stage. That’s an oversimplification, of course, as Ron Howard’s satisfying documentary makes clear, following the Beatles from their teen years in Hamburg clubs through sudden mega-stardom, up to their eventual retirement from live performing in 1967. New interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (plus archival observations from John Lennon and George Harrison) provide context, along with observations from celebrity fans who were personal witnesses to Beatlemania. But the real star here is the archival footage and recordings, and while there are only so many ways to show teen girls screaming and crying, the live performances, interviews, studio sessions and messing about in hotel rooms all capture an arc from goofy, delighted youngsters to guys increasingly weary with the chaos surrounding them. There’s no denying the studio artists they became, but here we see the personality without which they never would have had that chance.
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