Robert Zemeckis’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is a charming, if flawed tribute to the Beatles and the rampant Beatles Mania that ran throughout much of the late sixties. I’m sure Zemeckis bear witness to a lot of the “Beatlemania,” and his film seems to come from a place of experience. For folks that loved movies like “American Graffiti” or “Dazed and Confused,” Zemeckis’ 1978 comedy is one of those movie set over the course of a night that centers on a group of teenagers that are so devoted to the Beatles, they risk just about everything to see them on the Ed Sullivan Show.
It’s 1964, the height of Beatle-mania, and four Jersey girls/Beatles fanatics have concocted a plan to go on the road and catch the Beatles on their first live performance at “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Along the way they experience their own individual obstacles, and come to age all the while embracing their love for The Fab Four. Pam (Nancy Allen) who is engaged is re-considering marriage to a domineering man. Grace (Theresa Saldana) is an aspiring photographer, hoping to take a picture of the group to help her career, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) is stuck with a bellboy (Eddie Deezen) who is also a rival Beatles fanatic, while Janis (Susan Kendall Newman) insists on protesting the group’s popularity.
If the premise sounds familiar, then yes, the movie was very much ripped off in “Detroit Rock City,” but Robert Zemeckis’ film is much more polished. Not to mention it channels a lot of the aesthetic of the sixties that we would come to adore in “Back to the Future” only years later. Zemeckis’ film isn’t a complete slam dunk, but it’s a simple charming movie about the Beatles, and how they manage to help a small group of teen girls come to their own personal realizations. To help encourage the sense of fanaticism, Zemeckis uses mainly just Beatles music for the soundtrack of the film, conveying a lot of the rabid enthusiasm that fuels our main characters. Zemeckis compiles a strong cast of eighties regulars, and for all of its flaws with its uneven tone, shrill protagonists, and the immensely obnoxious Eddie Deezen, it’s a cute rock and roll cinematic memento.
The New Criterion Collection release includes the original vintage trailer for the film, and multiple radio spots. “Allen and McClure” is a twenty three minute brand new program produced for Criterion in 2018 with actors Nancy Allen and Marc McClure, both of whom recall working with Robert Zemeckis on the film, their interactions with the cast, the real Beatlemania and its impact on America and American culture. “Spielberg, Zemeckis, and Gale” is a forty two minute segment with executive producer Steven Spielberg, director/cowriter Bob Zemeckis, and cowriter Bob Gale, all of whom explain the original idea for the film and how it came to exist, how it was developed, the production process, and the themes.
There is a pair of short films by Robert Zemeckis who made them while a student at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Art. There’s the eight minute “The Lift,” and the fifteen minute “A Field of Honor.” There’s a vintage 2004 audio commentary with director and cowriter Bob Zemeckis and cowriter Bob Gale, both of whom discuss in exhaustive detail the production history, the key locations where the film was shot, the problems with unions, music, scores, and other Beatles references, along with the finale. The physical supplement is an illustrated leaflet with an essay from TV writer Scott Tobias, along with technical credits for the film.