Pavarotti

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* * * *

I really enjoyed Pavarotti, Ron Howard’s generous new theatrical feature documentary on the big cuddly tenor. Of course, it helps when your subject is so immensely talented, physically striking and charismatic: just seeing Pavarotti (and hearing him) for a couple of hours is entertainment enough. But Howard’s been a highly skilled storyteller for a long time now – he directed Splash in 1984 and Cocoon in 1985, and his resumé since includes A Beautiful Mind, Parenthood, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Backdraft and his finest film, Apollo 13 – and he knows how to flesh out a theme.

In Pavarotti, this means assembling the mass of available material – concerts, contemporaneous interviews, news reports, television specials and appearances, family photos and home movies – into a time-line that is subtly and cleverly arranged into thematic chapters. Without feeling the lanes shift, we move from Pavarotti’s anxieties to Pavarotti’s obsession with (and dependence on) food to Pavarotti’s love life to Pavarotti’s new management. It’s seamlessly and artfully done. Howard supplements the wealth of existing material with wisely chosen new interview subjects, relying most on Pavarotti’s three main lovers (who are all very elegant indeed). He, and they, quickly move past the required praising of the man’s astonishing vocal gifts and onto more personal and intriguing observations.

In the film’s second hour, Pavarotti basically owns a chunk of the 1980s as he becomes a mega pop star. Having lived through it, this section was very evocative and brought back the strange and distinct memory of much of the 1980s being dominated by such a small group of pop culture icons who all seemed to know each other and do projects with each other, often in the aid of charity: Pavarotti, Princess Diana, Bono and U2, Sting, Michael Jackson… Of course there were many others, but the placing of Pavarotti and Diana at the centre of high-end celebrity philanthropic society seems like a valid historical point.

Howard clearly loves his subject and keeps things positive, possibly to the point of hagiographic. But the main thing Pavarotti could be accused of (and his home country’s press certainly did) would be, through his love-life, a betrayal of his Catholicism, and Howard certainly doesn’t hide the love life. Thank goodness. I really enjoyed hearing from each of Pavarotti’s classy lovers about this man they, and the world, clearly adored.

Eight Days A Week

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***1/2

As I walked out of a general audience screening of Eight Days A Week, I heard a mature gentlemen say to his female companion, “I’m not sure it was worth $18”. That is the across-the-board price Australian cinemas are charging for Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles’ touring years, and the patron’s not wrong. There is very little here that was not done better in the epic television documentary The Beatles Anthology (1995) and not a lot that will be revelatory to Beatles fans of any level.

What’s being touted is new footage, and there is that. I’d never seen, for example, footage from concerts in Manilla and Tokyo, and that stuff is definitely interesting. Perhaps more importantly, the audio, which has been painstakingly sourced and fiddled with, is giving us better sound from even live appearance footage we’ve seen before many times. This time, instead of the girls, we hear the band. And you know what? They rock a little harder than you might expect from their tamer television appearances.

Also included in your ticket price is a half-hour edit of The Beatles At Shea Stadium, which follows the ninety minute film. But – as Paul himself says in the documentary! – the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play at that gig, with shocking results. Likewise, the cleaned-up sound for this “bonus, only-in-cinemas” content only highlights the mediocrity of the playing. Paul, in particular, sounds awful.

What saves the whole thing, of course, are The Beatles. I could simply live in their endless company – they were so charismatic, charming, funny and adorable in this period. And that is no small thing. Indeed, if you’ve got the eighteen bucks, there is absolutely no reason not to see Eight Days A Week, because it’s still two hours in the company of four of the most enjoyable people ever.