PLAYING AT SIFF | Beatles doc a fun look at height of band's popularity

When John Lester became the director for The Beatles’ first film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” he was told by the studio they could do whatever they wanted but it needed to be in theaters by July because “they would be a spent force by then.”

Of course the soundtrack to that movie would stay at number one until January, and The Beatles would go on to become the foremost influential act of the rock era. But in 1964 they were just a couple of mopheads having a moment in the spotlight.

It’s easy to forget that at the heart of all those early days of mania and madness was four 19-year-old boys, dedicated to making music. But “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years,” never does. The documentary, directed by Ron Howard, follows their journey from Liverpool to a relatively short stint in Hamburg, and then through four years of grueling tours and epic attention.

As they note in the documentary, with “basically the worst record deal in history” it was really the only way the band could make any money. The bulk of the movie focuses on how that aspect of their lives shaped them; how The Beatles related to their celebrity, and how the (American) public related to them. There’s little mention of drug use, discord, or anything else that might tranish their legacy.

What story is there left to tell about four of the most photographed individuals of the time? Howard smartly doesn’t seem to be aiming to do much more than fill in the blanks of what life was like playing 815 shows in four years.But the strength is also its flaw: the film doesn’t manage to say much with the rare collection of manpower and footage it’s assembled. It can’t explain why The Beatles were so crazy popular. Neither can they. “Eight Days a Week” shows you the standards under which The Beatles were producing, but it’s far from a deep insight into the inner workings of a group.

That said, what it does in the meantime is a lot of fun: The Beatles journey during just four years of touring is astounding. That Howard is able to get not just Paul and Ringo to talk about it, but also a number of guest stars like Lester, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, and Sigourney Weaver to speak about the band’s influence makes for as multifaceted an approach as one could get trying to cover the span of their effect in just an hour and a half. It’s paced nicely, with specificities and focuses making for a natural chaptered form that still moves together well. “Eight Days a Week” takes viewers through when The Beatles were just the latest cheeky teens to capture the hearts of teens, and just as audiences might start to get tired of yet more concert footage with young ladies screaming themselves unconscious, The Beatles themselves say “yeah, us too.”

From there it turns to hinting at what would come ahead for the prolific band: A halt in touring, more universally acclaimed albums, a changing world and a changing style. The documentary itself ends on The Beatles’ last concert, their rooftop concert in 1969, these four men looking remarkably older and with the times than their pudding bowl haircuts seemed to be. But the real draw for Beatlemaniacs would be the 30 minutes of remastered footage from their history-making concert at Shea Stadium. For that alone, “Eight Days a Week” may be worth the price of admission.

“The Beatles: Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years,” screens Sept. 15 at 7:15 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Tickets are $12 general admission, and $7 for SIFF members.