Dear Readers, I apologize in advance for any over-exuberance in this post. That’s what happens you ask a former Beatlemaniac to write about Beatlemania, madness kicks in. Full disclosure, I became a hardcore Beatle fan at age 11, too late to enjoy Beatlemania (in any way, shape, or form), much to my chagrin. This post is an opportunity for my inner 11-year-old to publicly geek out on the Fab Four! So here we go!!
Arguably, February 9, 1964, the day The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan is one of the most important dates in Rock’N’Roll History. Raging anglophilia plaguing America’s teenaged girls and The Beatles opened the floodgates for a British Invasion.
It was a day that forever changed fashion, music, and culture. Other musicians had scores of screaming fans (see my Ritz Brothers post for one of my grandmother’s Frank Sinatra stories) but never before had fandom reached such an insane fervor as it did during Beatlemania.
We can all laugh at Beatlemania from our safe distance, but former Beatles publicist Tony Barrow describes it as terrifying and dangerous. It’s the reason The Beatles stopped touring in 1966. This insane, frenzied phenomenon is the subject of our film I Wanna Hold Your Hand. The film is not about the Beatles though they are the film’s constant focus. It is about Beatle fans, plagued with Beatlemania!
I Wanna Hold Your Hand is an energetic, super-charged, highly comic, film that follows a group of teenagers determined to meet The Beatles. It is a coming of age film taking place during a cultural turning point in music history, but the film also represents a turning point for many of its characters.
ED SULLIVAN. And so, I want you to be prepared for excessive screaming, hysteria, hyperventilation, fainting, fits, seizures, spasmodic convulsions, even attempted suicides. All perfectly normal. —I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Zemeckis & Gale).
February 1964, Maplewood, New Jersey. Pam is eloping tomorrow night. Her friend Grace, a budding photographer, wants to rent a limousine and go to New York, so she can get exclusive photographs of The Beatles to launch her photographer career (limos get past security).
Along for the ride is Rosie an obsessive screaming Beatle Super Fan determined to win tickets from the local radio station, Janice a counter-culture protestor who wants to take the media by storm, Tony a Greaser bully out for a good time, and Larry the driver with a big crush on Grace.
Baby, you can drive my car, yes I’m gonna be star– Drive My Car- The Beatles
When they arrive at the hotel, they are in the midst of the fan frenzy, the streets are covered with screaming girls, dissenting boys, and police keeping the peace. The gang splits up, Grace, Rosie, and Pam sneak in the hotel, but become separated. Janice and Tony go out to the crowd to get her message out to the news media while Larry waits for Grace.
Janice and Tony see a young boy whose long hair causes drama, Janice takes up the boy’s cause. Meanwhile, Grace discovers the Beatles have left the hotel, she goes over to the theater and meets a stagehand who will let her in during the show if she gives him $50. Grace and Larry try to raise the money by cutting up bed sheets and selling them as The Beatles’ hotel sheets. When that scheme does not work, Grace gets desperate. She overhears a man ordering a call girl, she goes upstairs but ends up locked in the closet when the professional arrives. The man is a creep who wants mustard rubbed on his scalp.
Such a dirty old man– Mean Mr. Mustard- The Beatles
The police apprehend Rosie, but she meets up with another Beatle Super Fan, a boy named Ringo Klaus. Rosie (Wendy Jo Sperber) and Ringo (Eddie Deezen) are a spectacular on-screen duo! Both actors perfectly embody Beatlemania’s high-octane energy. Rosie is the screaming, fainting, Beatle fan and Ringo is the obsessive collector who rips up the carpet in the hotel. His prized possession is a clump of grass where Paul once stood.
Pam fares better than her friends, she sneaks into The Beatles’ hotel room, and fills her pockets with cigarette butts, spoons, drinks out of used tea cups. Unfortunately, they return and she hides under the bed, she is also apprehended.
She could steal, but she could not run— She Came in Through the Bathroom Window- The Beatles
While things look bleak for our gang, everything turns out well in the end. I won’t give away any more details.
The film’s director Robert Zemeckis has an ingenious ability to focus on The Beatles, without showing them on film. We can never really see The Beatles, we see photographs, album cover, film clips, a glimpse of a boot, hair, The Beatles are always out of reach. This cinematic device stems, from necessity, Universal feared a lawsuit and prevented Zemeckis from directly showing The Beatles on-screen. It strengthens our empathetic connection with our film’s heroes. We feel that agitation, that need to see The Beatles.
The screenplay’s co-writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale are extremely clever. There are tons of Beatle-isms, making the film ideal for the Beatle Super-fan:
- The Police shout “Get Back” to the crowds
- “909” is one of the room’s numbers
- Rosie screams “Help!”
- The guests describe the hotel, “Helter Skelter”
- The Barber shaves another customer- “Penny Lane”
“Pam” is in “Polythene Pam” and “Mean Mr. Mustard”
Janice wants a “Revolution” but has no plan
And many more
While many Beatle-isms are intentional, I can’t help but wonder, is Beatlemania contagious? Am I reading more Beatle-isms into the film or can you find a Beatle song to apply to almost every situation? Probably a little of both!
While the film received initial critical success, it was not a box office hit. Norman Keegan, author of The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis suggests that “there’s nothing here for people who aren’t popular music enthusiasts in general, if not Beatles fans in particular, and nothing new for people who are popular music or Beatles fans that they haven’t experienced or heard about already” (Kagan, 37).
As an audience member, I do not agree with Kagan on this point. Maybe it is because I focus on finding fun and enjoyable films. The movie is fun, enjoyable, superbly cast, has a great soundtrack, it is well-written and well-directed. I think it is fun to see faces and personalities attached to the screaming Beatlemaniac horde often shown film clips and photographs.
Actor Eddie Deezen (Ringo Klaus) is a real-life Beatle super-fan, according to Deezen, “When I saw the listing in the trades about an obsessed Beatle fan I thought, ‘that role is me!’ I auditioned nine times.”
But what did The Beatles think of the film? The Ultimate Beatles Quiz Book quotes a Rolling Stone article, where Starr labels the film as a “rip-off.” According to Deezen, “George Harrison in an interview with Crawdaddy called it a great historical film.” Sorry Ringo, I am going with George on this one, it is a fun movie dramatizing the madness of Beatlemania.
You can buy a copy of the DVD through any online retailer the average price is $8-$10. I cannot locate a decent, complete, streaming version online, Daily Motion has a copy, but the image is reversed and subtitled en Espanol.
This post is part of The Beatles Film Blogathon. Visit the event host site moviemovieblogblog and see the other posts! Join in the fun as we celebrate Ringo Starr’s birthday, The Beatle described in I Wanna Hold Your Hand as “the groups the oldest (born first) and youngest member (joining last)!”
Hockinson, Michael J. The Ultimate Beatles Quiz Book. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990. Print.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Universal, 2004. DVD.
Kagan, Norman. The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis. Landham, Md.: Taylor Trade, 2003. Print.
Myers, Marc. “How Beatlemania Nearly Crushed the Beatles.” Speakeasy RSS. 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 2 July 2015.
Niebaur, James L. “An Interview with Eddie Deezen.” Rogue Cinema. Web. 1 July 2015.