Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' Blu-ray

American teenagers as a culture force came into their own in the 1950s, and as always, the white/middle-aged forces in control were instantly threatened, trying to demonize kids with the over-stated “juvenile delinquency” scare of that decade. However, the combined power of Elvis Presley, James Dean, and the Crypt Keeper could not equal what happened to teens in 1964. They screamed like they were being murdered. They peed their pants. They threw themselves in front of and out of moving vehicles. They lost complete and total control. This crazed behavior was a consequence of three of the things the older generation most feared: sex, Rock & Roll, and foreigners. Those foreigners in question were four youngsters from Liverpool, England, and though The Beatles projected a seemingly wholesome image, teenagers correctly interpreted the licentious messages of Rock & Roll like “Please Please Me”, “Twist and Shout”, and even “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Consequently, they went cuckoo.

Footage of the shrieking crowds at early Beatles concerts is sufficient evidence of this moment in history when millions of teenagers practically lost their minds, but it does little to convey who these shrieking whackos were. 14 years after The Beatles’ invasion, writer/director Robert Zemeckis tried to get into the minds of Beatlemaniacs with his debut film. I Wanna Hold Your Hand portrays Beatlemania as a sort of infectious disease from which no young person is immune. Not every one of the film’s characters starts off as a Beatles fan, but they almost all end up as one, no matter if they prefer Joan Baez and social consciousness or are more concerned about their impending nuptials than some silly pop band from England. They all end up screaming with the crowd, or in the case of soon-to-be-married Pam, making out with Paul’s bass after sneaking into his hotel room.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand is slight, but it remains good fun and is fairly pioneering as what may be the first film about fandom. The cast, which includes such always welcome faces as Nancy Allen as Pam, future Bosom Buddies star Wendie Jo Sperber, Marc “Jimmy Olson” McClure, Teresa Saldana, and Dick Miller, is a hoot. Plus, the movie is loaded with original Beatles recordings, which makes it highly unique among movies that aren’t Beatles documentaries.

Because it is neither a very sophisticated film nor a full-on cult movie, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a slightly odd choice for the Criterion Collection, but not an unwelcome one. However, the picture is somewhat less sharp and detailed than Criterion’s usual work. Extras are nice though, with a friendly conversation about the film’s genesis and production between Zemeckis (they discuss clearing the rights for all those fab Beatles tunes and a very funny story about using footage of them at the end of the picture), co-screenwriter Bob Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg, an informative interview with stars Nancy Allen and Marc McClure, and two of Zemeckis’s student films that don’t provide much evidence that he’d one day churn out blockbusters but display a more anti-establishment bent that conservative stuff like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump would. The feature commentary with Zemeckis and Gale has also been ported over from Universal’s 2004 DVD.

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