Ron Howard directed one of his first movies, Cotton Candy, at Lake Highlands High School. His latest, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, is a documentary about the iconic band’s touring years. This is the story of how I wound up at last week’s London premiere of that film at the historic Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square.
My husband, Toby, and I were on a two week London vacation, and we caught the afternoon matinee of Disney’s Aladdin, the Musical. After an early dinner, we went to Leicester Square for some people watching. I heard squealing, so I looked up and saw Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr on a giant screen. I realized the screen was projecting from the square – we had stumbled onto the red carpet celebrity walk-in and interviews at the London premiere. (The carpet was blue, actually, for the color scheme of the film.)
We inched closer to see the action, which included press from around the world photographing the likes of Eric Clapton, Michael Palin, Yoko Ono and Madonna. We couldn’t believe our luck. We’re both huge Beatles fans, and in 2009 my only Christmas request was the newly released Beatles Box Set, which I happily received. We were pinching ourselves.
Suddenly a young man wearing a lanyard walked up and asked if we’d like to see the movie. We stuttered and finally nodded. He said we’d need to hurry – the show was set to begin in 7 minutes – and he pointed us to the blue carpet and gave us two passes. Toby was so sure it was a hoax that he presented the tickets and asked, “Are these good for anything?” Burly security guards stepped aside to let us pass.
Surely the assembled crowds wondered, “Who are these people?” We’d been touring all day and were dressed in our American jeans and tennis shoes.
Once inside, we were shown to our seats on Row 12. Almost immediately the theatre darkened and down the aisle strode McCartney, Starr and Howard, along with others who worked on the film.
Howard shared his understanding that the world knows much about the Beatles already, and his challenge was to create a new and fresh narrative, uniquely his own. He sent out a call in 2014, he said, soliciting never-before-seen photos and videos from individuals, TV stations and others who may have footage stored away from the band’s touring days. He was overwhelmed when videos came flooding in. He also discussed the painstaking process of editing old concert film with his sound experts to lower the level of girls’ screaming and enhance the sound of the music. Paul and Ringo said they couldn’t wait to see the flick – they never knew what they sounded like at those concerts. In fact, Ringo said he had to watch John’s bum stop bouncing to see when the song was over – the screaming was that loud.
It’s clear that we were “seat fillers” to ensure that Paul and Ringo looked out and saw a full house, and that many folks around us were employees for companies which worked on the film. They sat quietly, professionally, as one would at a “work event.” Toby and I, on the other hand, bounced in our seats and sang along.
If you see the movie, watch for Sigourney Weaver to make an appearance – she was a young teen when she attended a concert and Howard includes video of her then and an interview of her today looking back at the experience. Also catch Paul and Ringo’s recollection of their early 1960’s concert in Florida where they refused to play if the venue was racially segregated. They had forgotten that, they said at the premiere, but the footage demonstrates that they were steadfast. It was a stupid rule, they said at the time. The rule was lifted – if only for the night – and black concertgoers in the film tell of rocking alongside white teens for the first time.
The toughest part of the evening, and most touching, was hearing Paul and Ringo speak of their regret at not having John and George at the premiere to watch Howard’s movie with them.
Here’s a clip of the evening. Toby and I are somewhere in the crowd until an intern walked up and made our dreams come true.