Film Recommendation: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
A lot of people mark the end of Robert Zemeckis’ fruitful phase of his career when he abandoned live action in favor of CGI. That would mean that the last worthwhile film Bob Zemeckis was involved in was Cast Away in 2000. From there, it would be another 4 years before we’d see Zemeckis wave a long goodbye to the conventional methods of filmmaking and hello to directing on a purely CGI plane with The Polar Express. A lot of people, myself included, saw this as a very bad decision. Viewers complain that CGI characters don’t allow a director to convey qualities of narrative feeling and connectivity. Narrative connectivity was, and is the force that helps viewers connect to flesh and blood characters like Marty Mcfly, Joan Wilder, and Forrest Gump–no matter how outlandish or technically ambitious their adventures became.
Zemecki’s devotees began to look for patterns; context clues throughout his work that signaled the transition to the dark side of the uncanny valley. Did Zemeckis just wake up one day and say to himself, “I want to abandon live action in favor of unconvincing CGI characters.” Perhaps it was a more subtle transition. Were the signs there all along as his work progressed through the years? Maybe now we can look with the benefit of hindsight; Zemeckis had slowly been using fanciful special effects and CGI trickery more and more in his work. This distanced him not only from his audience, but from the “responsibilities of feeling and human emotion”. Certainly, cracks are beginning to show in his pre-CGI work more and more. We sit now and laugh at the CGI in Forrest Gump, not merely because it is outdated (I ask, how can artistic technique really ever out date itself?), but because we can see that all the effects and spectacle served to hide a fairly maudilin and simplistic story (i.e., mentally handicapped people are lucky). The same can be said of the Back to the Future Sequels. The awe and wonder that the first film inspired, its daring concepts and interesting ideas (the ability to change your future by your past and encountering you parents as teens), was replaced in the sequel with over-elaborate plotting and spectacle for its own sake. The thoughts and ideas in the first film were more humanistic and fulfilling than the mindless bickering over time paradoxes that the later sequels inspired.
Looking back and tracking the steps in his work, you can see very clearly how Zemeckis was laying the groundwork to jump ship from the human side to CGI. Movie by movie, plot by plot, he took away more and more humanity from his actors and his narratives, leaving the viewer with films containing overly sentimental caricatures and generally flaccid human beings in the midst of over-complicated plots with overblown special effects (Death Becomes Her, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, Contact).
What we’re seeing from Zemeckis is a (lazy) distortion of his former self. Believe it or not, there was once a Robert Zemeckis who valued story and character, albeit in his own hyperbolic slapstick sort of way, over CGI. Take away all the bells and whistles, the green screens and visual effects and you’re left with a young man who had a mania for energetic comic invention, and broad, yet oddly sincere, satire. You were left with a film like I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
The time is 1964, and the Beatles, already a hugely popular group, are about to go on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, an appearance that launched them into a worldwide phenomenon. Already, girls are fainting during their concerts from sheer excitement at being in the same theater with them. Pam Mitchell (Nancy Allen) is happy enough to be getting married but wants to bed one of the “Fab Four” before she does. Grace Corrigan (Theresa Saldana), a dedicated fan, is certain that if she can get some exclusive photos of the Beatles, her career as a photographer will be secured. And then there are two people who feel that the future of civilization as we know it depends on their efforts to ruin the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show. In this madcap comedy, when these people (and others besides) descend on the New York hotel the Beatles are staying in, things begin hopping.
synopsis courtesy of allmovie.com
We’ve all seen the screaming, tear-streaked faces. Young women tearing their hair out and having conniption fits at the sight of four lanky Brits in bowl cuts descending the stairs of a plane. We’ve watched the grainy black and white footage and marveled at the sheer pandemonium of the proceedings, and wondered what it was about these young men that inspired such a response. Wisely, Robert Zemeckis (and co-writer Bob Gale) figured that a film focusing solely on The Beatles as main characters would have been a self-defeating (and very expensive) endeavor. No documentary could ever (or has ever) encapsulated the scope of the fervor that accompanied their rise to dominance as cultural icons in America. So Zemeckis did the next best, and more interesting thing. It has always been that said if you want to know about a leader then examine his or her followers. Zemeckis takes heed; he puts a few fans (4 women, 3 men) front and center in his story and lets the spirit of Beatlemania wash over and inspire the young people to achieve new heights of madness, love, and debauchery, in their lives. We follow these young men and women over the course of one day in New York, as they descend upon a hotel where The Beatles are staying and attempt to see their now legendary performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Zemeckis assembled a cast of very talented young comedic actors and actresses. Cherubic firecracker, Wendie Jo Sperber plays Rosie Petrofsky, a big Beatles fanatic, even by the already high Beatlemania standards. She is friends with Grace Corrigan, played by Theresa Saldana, who balances her love for The Beatles with her journalism pursuits. Pam Mitchell, played by Nancy Allen, is the Charlie Brown of the group, managing to turn a wonderful thing like Beatlemania into a problem. A pre-feminist heretic named Janis Goldman, played by Susan Kendall Newman, completes the foursome. Newman’s character is acting as a dark horse who looks to protest The Beatles and everything they stand for. You would think that with a dynamic group of girls such as this, and with Beatlemania mainly portrayed as purely a female disease, that Zemeckis would have slacked off in his casting of the male leads, but this is simply not the case. He chose three young men as unique comic and romantic foils for the young women. Marc McClure plays the wimpy Larry Dubois, enticed into coming along by the alluring Theresa (as a chauffeur, of course). Juvenile delinquent Tony Smerko, played by Bobby Di Cicco, tags along solely to cause trouble. However, Zemeckis saved the best male role for his friend Eddie Deezen, who plays Richard “Ringo” Klaus, the biggest Beatle fan on earth without a Y chromosome. He provides (as he did throughout the 80’s) a madcap sort of geek charm that elevates the film to its greatest heights of lunacy.
The way these seven young people interact with one another, how they are able to share and disagree about their fandom is the meat of the film. “The film also has a flow of visual slapstick and off-kilter nuances that aren’t ever punched up or commented on; they just keep flashing by at a near fever pitch rate”. “The action is sometimes so fast that its like an adolescent stunt carried out convulsively”. However the viewer is never overwhelmed as Zemeckis has made sure to keep all the action grounded in a completely believable and true source; Beatlemania. “Its a zany American tale tall movie in Pop Art form.”
Check out the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ newest film (and grand return to live action) Flight