from “Help!” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
on the 1965 movie soundtrack album of the same name
Review by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Snowden (Oliver Stone)
In another film taken from the headlines, former CIA agent/NSA computer whiz Edward Snowden has long considered himself a patriot but when he learns how extensive the NSA surveillance of the American (and worldwide) public is he begins to have doubts that he should be involved in this operation so he steals massive files to expose this illegal clandestine activity.
What Happens: We begin on June 3, 2013 when dirt-digging-filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) along with U.K.’s The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald (Zachery Quinto) have a clandestine meeting in Hong Kong with former CIA-agent/Dell-computer-employee-assigned-to-work-in-secret-with-the-National Security Agency (NSA)-on Oahu, Hawaii Edward Snowden (played at Oscar-nomination-level by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to find out what important secret he wants to share with them (what we see here of Poitras shooting testimony by Snowden in this film-within-a-film becomes her own Oscar-winning-documentary, Citizenfour  if you can find time to watch it). They then hole-up in a local hotel where he tells them his story of how his strong desire to serve his country (with an interesting collection of inspirations from varied hero stories including Star Wars [George Lucas, 1977] and the writings of Joseph Campbell, Ayn Rand) went from a washed-out attempt at Fort Benning, GA (2004) to train for entry in the Special Forces (terminated by administrative discharge because of 2 broken legs suffered in basic training) to recruitment by CIA honcho Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) in 2006 for Snowden’s astounding computer skills (despite never finishing high school because of his parents’ divorce)—in the initial test he completes a task in 38 min. that’s supposed to take at least 5 hours (we also get some forewarning of the internal injustices of the agency from engineer Hank Forrester [Nicholas Cage], whose development of a filtering programing for the mass of incoming intelligence was rejected then resurrected but attributed to someone else after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks). O’Brian’s convinced that the “Internet is the modern battlefield,” so instead of assigning Snowden to his desired fieldwork he’s to be focused on cyber-warfare. Next we see his early involvement with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), even though her individual-freedom-concerns about how secret warrants issued by courts because of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are being used for unjustified-domestic-spying under the cover of the 2001 Patriot Act get dismissed by Ed as silly-babblings of the “liberal media.”
The film’s narrative continues to alternate between a current timeline in Hong Kong—where our initial trio is joined by The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson)—along with flashbacks of Snowden’s pre-2013 life where he’s posted by the CIA to Geneva (supposedly working with the United Nations) but there he's horribly disillusioned by revelations from an NSA colleague about the extent of electronic surveillance of millions of global citizens through their Internet usage, far beyond what anyone would know or expect, as well as a CIA plot to blackmail a Pakistani banker, Marwan Al-Kirmani (Bhasker Patel), with ties to Saudi Arabian investors as a means to sniff out information on possible other subjects. Under Lindsay’s influence Edward’s becoming more liberal but also more paranoid as he learns that much of the NSA spying is done through webcams on our personal computers so he puts masking tape over their device after noticing it while they’re having sex one night; Lindsay’s annoyed, says she has nothing to hide, but he’s concerned that anything can be twisted to be held against anyone as circumstances might dictate. He’s also hopeful with President Obama’s 2008 election that the campaign promise of more direct-public-transparency about data-gathering will be fulfilled but over time becomes disillusioned that nothing has changed since the previous Bush administration. Tension between Ed and Lindsay leads to a separation, but he returns from Japan to her home in Maryland in 2011, they make up, he takes a position with Dell working with NSA (then directly for the agency) in Hawaii to counter Chinese cybertheft, so for awhile they’re peacefully living in paradise, although still with his private turmoil (despite assurances from O’Brian, whom he’s occasionally in contact with, that “Most Americans don’t want privacy, they want security […] Secrecy is security and security is victory”). Ed develops a centralized-data-integration-program, Heartbeat, but then finds NSA has used it for an endless collection process which overwhelms both his conscience and his body, as stress leads him to epilepsy attacks.
He finally reaches a breaking point in 2013 (intensified by not taking his epilepsy meds, which make him groggy, so that he can be ultra-sharp for work) when he learns that Heartbeat’s being used to gather twice the amount of intel on Americans as on the Russians, so he convinces Lindsay to visit her parents (because he’s concerned that she’s under surveillance), gets into a Skype-based-clash with O’Brian (where’s he’s on a giant screen, literally dwarfing Snowden in his Hawaiian-conference-room), downloads a trove of NSA data on a tiny flashdrive, hides it under a panel of his constantly-carried-Rubik’s Cube to avoid security, slips off to Hong Kong where everything then remains in present time in our story as Ed argues with The Guardian guys about which of his documents should be released, they argue with their home office about even publishing at all, then finally it goes public on June 5, 2013 with revelations that Verizon turned over phone records to NSA, but there was also collusion with 9 major tech companies including Google, Yahoo, and Apple (with the operations defended in basic principle by Obama). Soon after, arrest warrants are issued for Snowden but he slips away, headed for Ecuador via Moscow but his passport’s nullified by the U.S. so he remains in Moscow to this day (joined by Lindsay). Stone’s film ends with Ed joining a conference somewhere in the West via video screen with the image changing in the scene from Gordon-Levitt to the real Snowden (shot in Moscow) where he’s still advocating governmental transparency in fear of dictatorial leaders rising to power (Where have we heard that concern before?), having access to unlimited information on their citizens to bring about clandestine-compliance with imposed-authoritarian-policies. Just before the final credits we get graphics noting (more details below) the 2015 court decision on the illegality of the NSA spying and revisions to the Patriot Act to better curb such future trespassing.*
*Those credits are supported by Peter Gabriel’s great song "The Veil" (which is available on the Snowden soundtrack album), with this official music video —not seen in the film—containing some Snowden shots, a lot of newsreel footage, and additionally-relevant-images, so I’ve shared it with you here but have made other choices for my official Musical Metaphor for this film farther below.
So What? This is yet another of Hollywood’s recently-ongoing-releases of fact-based-films that attempt to give dramatic structure to historical accounts, but at least this one admits from the very beginning that it’s a “dramatization of actual events,” giving the clear understanding that what you see here isn’t meant as unvarnished accuracy as much as it's made into a fictionalization of such, so the goal is mainly to understand the principles behind what you see on screen rather than cite them as evidence of what happened to a given person on a given day. Thus, the arguments about veracity here should center on the importance/infamy of what Snowden did rather than how characters’ actions are depicted in specific scenes (my problem with other recent fact-based-films such as Sully [Clint Eastwood; review in our September 15, 2016 posting], Southside With You [Richard Tanne; review in our September 1, 2016 posting], Florence Foster Jenkins [Stephen Frears; review in our August 31, 2016 posting]). It’s obvious that Stone wants his audience to explore certain facts about Edward Snowden and his massive-media-leaks on their own (plus he’s already strained normal bladder limits with a film close to the 2½-hour-mark), but you can easily expand upon what you get briefly in those final pre-credits-graphics if you go here for a bit more on the May 7, 2015 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the NSA’s bulk-collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal and then here for more on the June 2, 2015 passage of the USA Freedom Act, replacing the 9/11-inspired-Patriot Act with stronger provisions against bulk-data-collection (although Senators Rand Paul [libertarian-leaning-Republican] and Bernie Sanders [Democrat/democratic socialist] still voted against it as not going far enough, showing that when you get far enough toward the ends of any spectrum a line can turn into a circle where seeming-opposites find more options for overlap).
|Relevant reminiscences of "I am Spartacus."|
(Please look up this reference if you need to.)
For that matter, here’s an excellent Wikipedia article on Snowden, which is quite-well-documented but very lengthy. In fact, their editors say it “may be too long to read and navigate comfortably”; further, they say that it “contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry.” (And these are problems? Not by my lofty semi-“journalistic” standards.) But, lest you think that either Oliver Stone or I (based on the film in his case, the rest of this review or most any other one for me) is going too easy on this self-appointed-secret-disseminator of classified information (no doubts about what was on his email server, although it probably didn't rest there for very long) here’s an article from NPR noting both that the House Intelligence Committee has just wrapped up a 2-year-investigation of Snowden*—in which they called him “’a serial exaggerator and fabricator’ who ‘caused tremendous damage to national security’”—and comments from Chris Inglis, former Deputy Director of NSA: “’the story that was told [in the movie] was a gross mischaracterization of what NSA's purposes are. And a gross exaggeration of Edward Snowden's own particular role in that. To the point where you could come away from looking at that movie, saying why are 50,000 people at the NSA dead wrong? And one is absolutely correct?’" Snowden, though, still defends what he did and why he did it in this New York Times article: “’I would argue that being willing to disagree, particularly in a risky manner, is actually what we need more of today,’ he said, adding that he remained a patriot. ‘When we have this incredible, often fact-free environment, where politicians can simply make a claim, and then it’s reported, without actual critical analysis of what that means, what the effect would be — how do we actually steer democracy?’” These mutually-exclusive-views further underscore how difficult it is to make a film on this topic (although even here Snowden admits his actions will lead to arrest and demonization, or just the latter if he can ever put himself beyond the reach of U.S. law regarding the former).
*The Executive Summary is available, a 3-page-PDF-document released on September 15, 2016.
Whether that all contributes to an effective result will be a matter of individual judgment, as the issues contained within make this as hard to judge on cinematic merits as previous fare such as The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915), Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), or Free State of Jones (Gary Ross; review in our July 7, 2016 posting) has shown, when controversial content (respectively slavery, Nazism, the Civil War) overshadows the constituting-elements of filmmaking.
Final Comments: There’s no doubt with Snowden that Stone’s sympathetic to Ed, his decision to steal and allow the release of the NSA files, and the continuing sense of justice on his behalf in taking the actions that he did, as well as this film adding to the argument that Snowden should be given a Presidential pardon* so that he can return to the U.S. without fear of being tried under the 1917 Espionage Act, intended for harsh punishment of spies where the defendant cannot even testify directly to a jury, only make a plea to the trial judge for mercy upon sentencing (if he’d even make it to trial; Snowden expresses further fear that his life would be endangered upon preliminary-incarceration). What he did and how he should be held accountable for it is a difficult question for me, given that the no-holds-barred-scope of telecommunications-data-gathering has been ruled illegal by a federal court so that Snowden’s public disclosure of this activity is a factor to be taken into account regarding his legal future, although he faces the conundrum that what he did was itself considered unlawful when he did it, whereas the NSA activities hadn’t been ruled as such in 2013. As someone who was raised Catholic—although no longer with such affiliation—this reminds of the quandary I’ve often considered about those poor souls who ate meat on Fridays back when the Church said this was a mortal sin (for defying the mandated-sacrifice) resulting in automatic eternal condemnation to Hell unless the grievous sin were confessed and forgiven prior to death, but that requirement’s been modified since 1966 so what happens for those damned under the previous “law”? Does their punishment continue because it was in effect during the time of their transgression or do they receive a “get out of Hell free” card? Strange as this may sound, I see it as related to Snowden’s situation regarding those who feel his actions amount to destructive espionage at the time he committed them vs. those who say he helped re-establish some guarantee of privacy in our worldwide-context of interconnectivity, absolving himself of the old charges leveled against him.
*You can read this statement from The Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan in which she argues for a pardon, in contrast to her editorial board (with a supportive disagreement also
against that board from former-Guardian-leaker-Greenwald), including her notation that publishing Snowden’s revelations earned the Post (and The Guardian) the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
Similarly, there are those who say Snowden could have made his point by just allowing the release of a few representative documents to prove his charges, keeping the bulk of what he had in secret so as not to endanger various global military operations, true spies, delicate governmental maneuvers, etc., but the problem there could easily be how viable his charges would be seen unless he could demonstrate the veracity of the enormous amount of unauthorized activity he uncovered, that his position wasn’t just a hollow bluff. This again reminds me of previous arguments about a past situation of similar-critical-international-import, this time the after-the-fact-stance of those who maintain the U.S. should have simply done public demonstrations at some deserted-island-location of our atomic-bomb-capacity in 1945 rather than actually using these weapons to kill civilian multitudes in our quest to bring about a quick Japanese surrender in WW II; the counter-argument, which won out even before the bombs were dropped, is that such showcasing of massive destructive power would probably not have weakened the will of a nation fiercely determined to fight to the last man upon an Allied invasion (just as was the case with the small island of Iwo Jima where intense resistance resulted in excessive causalities on both sides, as shown in the matched-pair of Clint Eastwood films, Flags of Our Fathers  and Letters from Iwo Jima ). Who can say the result of these “what if” scenarios, where either President Truman’s or Edward Snowden’s decisions are concerned? All we can know is what did happen, with the long-ago-outcome finally inching toward mutual forgiveness and full-normalization in Japanese-U.S. relations but the current situation still an open question about Snowden’s classified leaks. It would seem that my focus should be on how effective Stone’s film is rather than the guilt or ultimate-innocence of Snowden, but that legal concern is a huge factor in the impact of this film in that Stone has to make a solid case for his protagonist if public reaction is to be swayed (as this narrative is clearly intended to help do) toward honoring a man still being vilified by his own government, as shown in the U.S. House findings noted a bit above.
To be sure, this film leaves no doubt that Stone feels Snowden was vindicated, not only because he was certain (justifiably, as it turns out) that the massive NSA collection of electronic data exceeded anything the government had the right to do—even within the spirit of the Patriot Act’s intentions to protect the American homeland from further terrorist activity, initiated either here or abroad—but also because of Poitras’ firm assertion that she had a copy of the secret FISA court order authorizing any sort of bulk-data-surveillance which proves that NSA went far beyond their allowed-limits, so it would seem, as shown in Snowden, that our increasingly-libertarian-minded-protagonist was always justified (as the actual guy continues to claim, even today, with many in support of his actions). Stone further attempts to make his case even more fireproof from staunch-American-protectionists on the right of our political spectrum by seeming to put the blame for this continued Orwellian-oversight of everyone’s daily activities on President Obama by showing Snowden’s disappointment that this Chief was no better than his predecessor in allowing such across-the-board-snooping to continue despite campaign pledges to make the reasons for domestic surveillance more transparent, thereby singling out Obama for most of Snowden’s scorn (with hardly a mention of how physically-atrocious [and also illegal] interrogation procedures against suspected terrorists had been carried out under 8 years of President G.W. Bush), with a snippet toward the very end of the film of Hillary Clinton saying Snowden needs to face the “consequences” of his actions, followed by a brief statement from Bernie Sanders defending him so that Stone’s got evidence of many stances ready for all comers.
So, Stone ultimately defends Snowden’s stance (obvious the 2 of them are in harmony because Snowden allowed Stone to film him in Moscow, giving added emphasis to the film’s final scenes)—but, in regard to Ed’s presence in Russia, in many American minds Snowden’s situation isn’t helped at all by his current residence even if the U.S. decision about cancelling his passport is why he never made it to Latin America; once you start acting like a counterintelligence-agent by revealing state secrets it’s hard to convince many Americans that you’re not working directly with Putin (although, ironically, that now seems to not be a bad thing for many Donald Trump supporters).
How to deal with vital issues of national security while protecting individual rights of privacy is one of the most serious issues that all nations face now, given the ever-increasing-actions of terrorist activity all over the globe with religious/culturally-based-antagonisms leading to “winner-take-all” levels of constant violence on the battlefields of the Middle East and Africa or in the “soft targets” of sporting events, shopping malls, city streets everywhere.
I don’t pretend to have any answers as to how to deal with this ongoing-threat to life, liberty, and human decency, nor can I begin to know how many incidents of brutal horror have been thwarted by various governments’ espionage watchdogs (an increasing topic of rescue and relief in various movies and TV shows) nor what sort of borderline-legal (if that)-actions have to be taken to bring about the unraveling of these deadly plots on a daily basis. Even a better sharing of the world’s limited resources—an issue that underlies a lot of the global violent demands for better access to essential-life-support—won’t stop the slaughter that results from fanatical readings of “holy” scriptures that seem to support killing any “infidel” not in league with the latest gang of ultra-orthodox-“reformers,” so I’m hesitant to criticize any unknown actions that kept me from being shot, knifed, or bombed just trying to attend a baseball game or take a cross-country-flight (let alone go to an office party or a nightclub). Still, I don’t wish to live in a society where my protectors jump to conclusions about my intentions just because I share social media complaints about various politicians or express anti-capitalist-attitudes in a film-review-blog with an international readership (France leads again), so I do understand and appreciate the selfless-dedication of a person such as Edward Snowden who sacrifices his own liberty (I hardly consider Moscow to be a place of great personal freedom nor allowance to criticize the government) on behalf of countless others, from the same source of patriotic-pride that he initially wanted to manifest in military action.
This film is convincing—if easily seen as skewed in Snowden-support—that this whistle-blower’s (even though it’s argued that he doesn’t fit that definition because the NSA wasn’t personally harming him, yet he’d counter that he was acting in a “class action” manner on behalf of himself and all American—ultimately world—citizens) crusade for such internal vigilance from our national security forces is necessary to preserve a truly free, democratic society where dissent is protected along with freedom from harm, difficult as it might be to find a balance between those needs (without the assumption that we all have to do it ourselves with an assault rifle in our laps as we sit, keeping vigil on our front porches). The acting is uniformly superb, the shifts in time periods between Snowden’s past and present are handled clearly and effectively through straightforward editing, tension (along with some occasional flashes of humor) is maintained throughout the non-burdensome 134-min. running time, and it’s certainly a conversation starter whether you agree with Snowden’s approach or not—which puts both conservatives and liberals at some measure of internal as well as external odds because of the attacks on government overreach on the one hand (allowing right-wingers to vent against Obama while not having to admit much about Bush) coupled with acknowledging that intelligence-operations were compromised by the document publications but also lets left-wingers praise Snowden for exposing abuses of technological-defense-methods in an over-response to “homeland security,” quietly easing the hit on Obama that his decisions have been forced by the Middle Eastern wars and necessary terrorist-counter-measures that he inherited from destructive decisions by the previous administration.
Regarding Snowden’s dovetailing with the current Presidential race—which is certainly not a coincidental aspect of the current timing of its release—there’s a clear implication of concern about future abuses of imperial power by such as Donald Trump while Hilary Clinton might be guilty by association* given her role as Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009-2013 although there’s no mention of her in the script except for an actual newsreel clip at the end of her calling for Snowden to face legal judgment, all of which would seem to play well to the more-traditionally-patriotic in the audience (assuming they’d even choose to watch an Oliver Stone film in the first place), implying some comfort to all realms of our sociopolitical spectrum. All in all, I find Snowden to be compelling filmmaking (obviously more so than those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic with their almost-tie of 60%, 58% respective positive responses [more details in the Related Links far below]), fascinating to watch, as well as being a useful inspiration for further research and reading, no matter how you currently feel about Snowden’s situation (just don’t expect an Obama pardon, at least until after the upcoming 2016 election but even then possibly depending on its results, as I will accept that no political act likely comes about from innocent intentions).
*My arch-conservative (and damn proud of it, he’d be glad to confirm) colleague from Pittsburgh, Fiore Mastracci, seems to reach that conclusion with remarks in his review, but—as you’d see from reading it—we live on different planets where this film’s concerned, which should come as no surprise to either of us. Anyway, if you’ve somehow managed to make it past the consistently-leftist-views in my reviews and are still with me to this point even without necessarily being onboard with my opinions, you might enjoy the complete change of perspective Fiore provides (just don’t expect any more objectivity from him than you’ll get from me, no matter what he tries to tell you).
When it comes to choosing an appropriate Musical Metaphor for what I’ve experienced in Snowden (with an eye toward allowing it to both tag onto this posting’s title and be useful in regard to The Beatles’ documentary explored below) I couldn’t think of a better one than John Lennon singing “Help!” (with vocal backing from Paul and George), a live performance at https:// www.youtube.com/ watch?v=plSvZY-MM MI from the significant (see the next review) 1965 Shea Stadium concert (poor visual quality but excellent audio) where we get to see performance dynamics as well as hear the lyrics, which I find to be quite relevant to not only Lennon’s growing sense of loss as a musician as The Beatles’ live shows became absurd attempts to even be heard over the screaming from their audiences (I still remember walking past the Martini Theater in Galveston, TX one afternoon, deciding there was no point in buying a ticket for A Hard Day’s Night [Richard Lester, 1964], a movie I really wanted to see, because if I could hear the audience adulation coming through the building’s walls I saw no point in trying to hear what was going on with the soundtrack, so I finally watched it later in college when Beatlemania had died down a bit) but also Snowden’s situation resonates with John's feelings that “When I was younger so much younger than today I never needed anybody’s help in any way But now those days are gone I’m not so self-assured” as his “independence seems to vanish in the haze.” Still, for the benefit of those who still see Ed more as a traitor than a heroic-whistleblower, I’ll get a little sarcastic with a 2nd Metaphor, another Beatles’ tune, “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” where the singer (McCartney this time on lead) parodically-celebrates coming home to the land of balalaikas (and gulags), being “lucky” to return to his Ukraine, Moscow, and Georgia girls (prior to the 1990s, when they were all part of the Soviet conglomerate) just as Snowden’s critics assume him to be an anti-American-spy. This version, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw0kJf_15QE, is from the 2005 Paul McCartney in Red Square DVD (you can go here to see the whole [1:40:04] of his 2003 Moscow concert but this specific “U.S.S.R” video seems to be from his 2004 St. Petersburg show, also on the DVD as best I can make sense of ambiguous-Internet-info about a disc I don’t own).
Short(ish) Takes (hard for me to be brief about The Beatles but I've tried)
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years (Ron Howard)
(I couldn't see much need for a capsule summary here as the title tells you all you need to know.)
This the latest documentary of at least part of the career of 4 English guys many (including me) consider to be the greatest rock and roll band of all time (blending into just rock as their songwriting evolved over the brief decade of their fame)—despite the grand-ongoing-stage-career of the Rolling Stones—is a great nostalgia experience for those of us who were with them from the beginning, in the U.S. from my perspective although their fame had already been established in Europe long before I heard their music (on Top 40 KILE-AM radio in Galveston in early 1964, but something I learned from this documentary is that the 1st American airplay of one of their tunes [“I Want to Hold Your Hand”] happened on my 16th birthday, December 17, 1963*). Whether this compilation of their act from 1963-1966 (with just a hint of the former—including some quick history of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr getting together in Liverpool as the new decade arrived—from brief footage of a concert in Manchester from November 1963 [excellent sound and visual quality with this clip, seemingly re-formatted into contemporary widescreen], more details on the 3 years beginning in 1964) will convince those too young to know nor yet care much about them is a question I can’t answer, although Howard’s collage of photos, performance snippets, interviews (from back then, as well as some retrospective commentary from Lennon and Harrison before their deaths, contemporary reminiscences from McCartney and Starr), and enough footage of screaming girls to verify the intense level of their popularity should certainly serve as evidence that their worldwide-appeal was no after-the-fact-hype but a true phenomenon forever remembered as Beatlemania (there’s even a 1964 clip of a huge audience of men singing “She Loves You” at a Liverpool soccer [football outside the U.S.] stadium in tribute to their fabulous hometown heroes).
*The specific date’s noted in Howard’s movie; here’s a news story with more information on how it all happened (that is, The Beatles' song being played on American radio, not my blasé birthday).
Viewing logistics of ... The Touring Years forced me to put away my wee penlight for note-taking, so rather than recount specifics (which you can find variations of in a good number of books, news accounts, other Beatles’ documentaries, YouTube performances, etc.) I’ll just note a few things that I recall: From the 1964 section Whoopi Goldberg remembers how wonderful it was for all sorts of kids to share the commonality of being Beatles’ fans, no matter what other shortcomings that they may have been accused of by their peers; also from that long-ago-late-summer-1964-part is the problem that arose prior to the Jacksonville, FL concert which was intended to be set up with standard-segregated-seating until The Beatles refused to perform in such venues, essentially ending the practice at future musical events in the American South; the absurdity of the group’s 1st actual American concert (in Washington, D.C. [February 11], not counting their broadcast appearance on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, Feb. 9, although millions more saw them on TV) where they had to halt their start until the drum set could be turned around to face the audience (although the non-rotating-stage oddly had seats behind the band, so maybe that was part of the confusion); their historic 1965 Shea Stadium Show (Flushing, Queens, NYC, August 15; this video version has some odd after-the-fact-stretched-imagery) in front of 55,600 screaming fans, which set the stage (so to speak) for rock concerts in such huge public arenas (although required at the time by The Beatles’ enormous popularity, which was leading to crowd-control-problems when thousands of determined-fans had to be turned away from smaller auditoriums); the huge-hubbub in 1966 when Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus led to protests and record/memorabilia-burnings in Bible Belt cities; their final paid-pubic-performance at San Francisco’s now-gone-Candlestick Park on August, 29, 1966 (where the delirium of the crowd and the inability to even hear their music [including on stage by each other; Ringo says he simply watched the others’ bodily movements to know where they were in the songs]) ended their touring years; some footage from the Let It Be (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970) doc with their actual final public performance on the roof of their Apple Corps Ltd. building.
Howard never claimed to be breaking any notable new ground with this memorial to a lost time (it’s now been a bit over 50 years since that last 1966 show; my wife, Nina, and I had to finally admit that maybe our mothers were truly concerned about our safety at these events if they paid more attention than we did at the time to what we just saw in footage of throngs of [mostly] girls crushing each other up against fences, passing out, etc., although we’re still grumbling that our Moms kept us from seeking out our idols at their 1964 SF [for her] and then 1965 Houston [for me] shows, with Nina having to also pass on the 1966 finale despite both of us living so close to the events
[she was just across the SF Bay in Oakland; I was 50 miles down the freeway, also by the water, of Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico]), he simply wants to help preserve a unique time in cultural history (although in 1964 McCartney scoffed at a reporter’s question that The Beatles represented anything to do with “culture”), offer up some previously-unseen-footage, and restore what he could of existing archives, with one special-added-enhancement for anyone who wants to seek out a visit to … The Touring Years at 1 of the scant 85 theaters where it’s playing (rather than downloading just the documentary on Hulu), a marvelously-pristine-half-hour (that’s all headliners played in those days, filling up the rest of the show with opening acts*) revamping of the Shea Stadium concert (noted with a link above in this review) which plays right after Howard's film ends, even though a
good number of my fellow attendees left our small Berkeley theater (the marvelous Rialto Cinemas Elmwood) even before it started, despite earlier announcements of this addition. While I've no memory of further details I’m still offering a rating for … The Touring Years, which would be 5 stars if well-packaged-nostalgia were the only criteria vs. my official 3½ for its actual-cinematic-value, just as you will find Rotten Tomatoes
and Metacritic offering a similar split, the former showing 97% positive reviews while the latter’s cumulative score is 72%.
*In defense of my mother’s anti-Beatles-protectionism, though, I’ll honor her memory by noting she did volunteer to drive me and a couple of my friends to the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo’s Rock and Roll Show, spring 1965, where the top spot went to Roy Orbison but also included (at best I can remember) well-known-artists of the time B.J. Thomas and the Triumphs (a local band before his later “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” fame), Billy Joe Royal, and The Four Tops.
If you want to know more, here’s the official site and the trailer for The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, along with a taste of what this documentary has to offer with this 1965 concert (1:34:38; click Show More on the link to see who sings what when) starring a lot of famous British Invasion names—the Moody Blues, Freddy and the Dreamers, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Seekers, Herman’s Hermits, The Ivy League, Sounds Incorporated, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, the Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, Donovan, Them (with Van Morrison), The Searchers, Dusty Springfield, the Animals—with The Beatles segment from 1:16:22 to 1:29:45, although oddly enough The Kinks are the closing act despite the Fab Four being introduced as “the world’s greatest” pop musicians. Yet, none of that acts as an official Musical Metaphor for an official review so I’ll finish by using Howard’s end-credits-music, taken from his title, “Eight Days a Week,” (on the 1964 U.K. Beatles for Sale album, the 1965 U.S. Beatles VI album) at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=JELULTSzjWw (I can’t find a group video of it so here’s just McCartney in Tokyo, 2013), implying the lads’ frantic-constancy in those touring years where they “ain’t got nothing but love” for their fans, even though those fans’ frenzy finally drove them off the stage.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Snowden:
https://snowdenfilm.com (this is a very kinetic official site; click the little box in the upper-left-corner to open up a line of related areas on the left edge of your screen)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw4x2fAlKKU (13:35 interview with director Oliver Stone)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.