I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Fanboys

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I Wanna Hold Your Hand follows a group of fanboys and fanboyettes who put all modern day internet fan communities to shame on a journey to meet their idols. There’s a lot of screaming, shouting and overall hyperactivity with its lightning fast, 1930’s-like repertoire and I watched the entire film with the biggest smile on my face. Crazy over the top comedies like these are my forte and I Wanna Hold Your Hand is one of the most energetic I’ve ever seen. The film begins with Ed Sullivan (Played by Ed Sullivan look-a-like Will Jordan) on the set on his own show off air introducing the movie Patton style, setting the stage for just how big The Beatles had become by January 1964. This was only three months after the assassination of JFK but this is never mentioned in the film. The film shows how Beatlemania provided an escape from the real world.

Wendie Jo Sperber and Eddie Deezen (a voice forever implanted into my head from years of childhood exposure on Dexter’s Laboratory) as Rosie and Ringo (as he calls himself) are the two most hyperactive of the cast members. I find it adorable that these two, one a social outcast and the other puppy dog eyed time bomb being brought together through their insane Beatles’ worship; especially when Rosie tells Ringo, “You’re the only boy I feel I can really talk to”. Likewise, Pam Mitchell’s (Nancy Allen) scene in which she invades The Beatles’ hotel room as she strokes and licks Ringo Star’s guitar neck is erotic cinema at its finest (she even takes off her engagement ring and puts t into her shoe beforehand, nice touch). The cinematography really puts a lot of emphases put on that guitar neck only for Ringo himself to later comment that it’s covered in sticky stuff, sexy. I’d do the same thing as well, not with The Beatles but there are other celebrities of whom I was in their hotel room I would be rubbing my face against everything they’ve touched and don’t lie, you would too.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand also features Paul Newman’s daughter Susan Kendall Newman in her second of three film appearances. Her character of Janis is introduced complaining to the manager of a record store that “all I see around the store is Beatle albums. What about Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, don’t they get equal floor space?”; back to the USSR for you Ms. Frankfurt School. It seems every generation has their socially righteous trying to ruin everyone’s fun although the movie does manage to make her into a sympathetic and more likable character as the film progresses. The film even gives significant attention to Beatles’ haters. One of the film’s greasers Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) hates The Beatles so much he abuses Beatles’ fans and even attempts to sabotage their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; talk about haters gonna hate.

The other stroke of genius is while we do see The Beatles they are never shown in their entirety. Rather the film takes the Ben-Hur Jesus approach in which only the bodies are seen but never the faces. If they actually did cast actors to play The Beatles in which we see their faces it would take you out of the film. There are even shades of American Graffiti present in I Wanna Hold Your Wand with its early 1960’s setting, young people, rock music and cars.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand marked the directorial debut of Robert Zemeckis. Like in Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump years later, I Wanna Hold Your Hand combines fiction surrounding a historical event. Much of the film’s cast being reunited the following year in the comically less successful 1941 (directed by Steven Spielberg) despite also being written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. I’ve always considered Zemeckis to be a much better director than Spielberg.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand captures that feeling of having such a strong devotion to something. As you become increasingly attached to these characters you feel that if they really did miss The Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan Show then their lives really wouldn’t be worth living.

Fedora (1978)

When the Pictures Became Small

Fedora is one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen, to say the least. At points I’m almost laughing at the movie’s plot twist yet the more bizarre and highly improbable the movie became the more I found myself getting engaged in the story, waiting in eager anticipation to find out what will happen next with those oh so joyous “I did not see that coming” moments. The film’s highly implausible plot manages to draw the thin line between being completely absurd but never feeling like a parody.

The character of Fedora herself is a reclusive movie star who goes to extreme lengths in order to stay “on top” and retain her eternal youth to the point which even Norma Desmond would consider crazy. Early during the film, I suspected Greta Garbo to be the likely source of inspiration for the character of Fedora (whom Wilder always had great admiration for) but as the plot progressed I thought to myself “ok even Garbo was never this nuts”.

One of Fedora’s other intriguing aspects is the film’s critique of New Hollywood and how times have changed since Hollywood’s golden era came to pass. Fedora is the only film I’ve seen which displays a harsh attitude towards New Hollywood with lines referring to Hollywood being taken over by kids with beards who don’t need a script, just a handheld camera with a zoom lens as well as the demise of glamorous movie stars of the past. This is one of several aspects of Fedora which makes it similar to what you could call its spiritual cousin Sunset Boulevard; which itself commented upon what was lost when the silent era came to an end. I could go on making comparisons between the two films from William Holden playing a Hollywood hack in both films to Michael York’s role the in film being similar to the role Cecil B. Millie played in Sunset Boulevard.

I imagined by 1978 Wilder was far past his directing prime, not to mention after the 1950’s he seemed to become content with only directing comedies; thus I’m surprised to consider Fedora as one of his greatest films and a return to the roots of his earlier work as a director. As soon as William Holden’s narration begins you can instantly tell this is classic, old-school Billy Wilder.

The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)

Quit Badmouthing the House!

The Cheyenne Social Club sounds like a bad idea on a number of levels. For beginners it stars two elderly actors towards the end of their careers in a comedy about prostitution, not to mention Gene Kelly would be one of the last people I would expect to be directing a western. For a long time it remained a movie I doubt I would ever watch yet much to my surprise the film turned out not only to be perfectly dignified but also very funny and surprising endearing. The idea of Jimmy Stewart being the owner of a brothel and becoming a sugar daddy sounds wrong on paper yet somehow it manages to work. The Cheyenne Social Club paints an idealized version of a whore house in which the women are proud of their profession and worship their boss. The movie doesn’t shun prostitution and while propaganda might be a strong word I certainly got the impression the movie was voicing its support for the legalisation of prostitution.

Henry Fonda is by far the funniest thing in the film; a child in an adult’s body living out a completely carefree existence with Stewart being the straight man and the grown-up one of the two. Even as soon as the film begins Fonda babbles through the entire opening credits which according to the movie lasts for literally over a thousand miles which helps distract from how ordinarily plain the test in the opening credits are. The relationship between the two is incredibly endearing with one of my favourite moments of the film is the two of them innocently sleeping in the same bed together. It is also very amusing as Fonda just follows Stewart wherever he goes as he has nothing else to do with his time but also because he just likes his company. It’s evident through their own screen chemistry that the two where lifelong friends. The film’s other major highlight is Stewart and Fonda’s discussing of politics (Stewart being a Republican and Fonda a Democrat) mirroring their real-life personas and bringing to mind an occasion when their friendship was almost brought to an end when they got engaged in a fist fight over politics in 1947 (“I don’t like to dispute you John but didn’t you always vote democratic?, Well…that was when I didn’t know any better”) .

The Cheyenne Social Club is the third of three films James Stewart and Henry Fonda starred in together. The first two of which are among the weakest films I’ve seen from ether actor. Thankfully the third time was the charm; it took 35 years to get these two legendary actors in a great film together but it was worth the wait.

Cactus Jack (1979)

Meep Meep!

Kirk Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger did a movie together? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it at first either. But that’s only the tip the iceberg of bizarreness that is Cactus Jack. It’s also a live-action Road Runner cartoon! So let’s sum this up: “One of the all-time Hollywood greats and the granddaddy of cheesy action movies team up for a live-action road runner cartoon.” How did this movie bypass me for so long?

Douglas (in remarkable shape for 61) wasn’t as a big a star as he once was by the 1970s, so did he take this role due to lack of superior film offerings or was he not ashamed to show that he had a sense of humour about himself as the inept, out of his league outlaw Cactus Jack Slade. It’s also worth noting the relationship he has with his horse named Whiskey parallels to that he shared with a horse of the same name in a previous Kirk Douglas film Lonely are the Brave from 1962 – with the one difference being that the Whiskey in Cactus Jack acts in a cartoonish, anthropomorphic manner.

I’m also not sure if much of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line delivery is supposed to be intentionally or unintentionally funny in the role of the male bimbo Handsome Stranger as he is oblivious to the sexual advances of Ann Margret’s Charming Jones. The scene in which Handsome narrates a flashback about when he tried to stop a bunch of runaway horses from injuring women, children and old men while trying his hardest to emote cracks me up.

The main problem with Cactus Jack is that the jokes are very hit and miss, from well-timed gems to moments of head-scratching awkwardness. At 85 minutes it’s already a short movie but even then it could have trimmed down to meet the requirements of its high concept premise. The roadrunner inspired gags are undoubtedly the highlight as Jack pulls props and elaborate setups out of thin air. By far my favourite gag is the classic painting a tunnel onto the side of a rock; having this gag in a cartoon is funny itself, however, I find having it played out in live-action is even funnier in the sense that I couldn’t believe they were doing a live-action rendition of this joke, having me pondering if that the carriage would really go through that painted tunnel.

On the other hand, other slapstick gags in the film don’t make a whole heap of sense even within the film’s cartoon world nor appear to have a clear method as to what Cactus Jack is trying to do in order to take down Handsome Stranger and Charming. Likewise, Cactus Jack is not a film that is particularly well-directed although a sleeker project would have less charm. This is the type of film I can watch more than once based purely on its novelty value and I’m happy it exists, even in its very flawed state.

Lionheart (1978)

Oh Kate, My Lionheart

Lionheart is the underdog of Kate Bush’s work; usually dismissed as the inferior, rushed follow up to The Kick Inside. Pfft, what album are the people who say this listening to? Lionheart was released only nine months after The Kick Inside but you would never know it. The album is campy, theatrical and is the kookiest thing Bush has ever recorded but it doesn’t care who knows it. What do you expect from an album which has Kate dressed as a lion on the cover?

There’s not a track I dislike here and choosing a favourite is hard. Ultimately have to go with Kaskha from Baghdad, a song which creates such a visualisation in my head with lyrics such as “Cause when the alley-cats come out, you can hear music from Kashka’s house”. The song is believed to be about a male homosexual couple: “Kashka lives in sin they say, with another man”. Is Kashka the name designated to a man? Lionheart has some of the best representations of Kate’s ability to tell stories through her music. Likewise, with the song Fullhouse, a particular favourite of mine, contains lyrics real cinematic scope, describing a scene which could come straight from a film noir.

Lionheart is probably the most English album ever; Oh England My Lionheart is probably the most English song ever. I’m not an anglophile but when I listen to this song I sure feel like one! An unabashedly romantic to the highest degree, yearning for an England that no longer exists, or perhaps never existed to begin with. I also notice the lyric notes on the CD and Vinyl for Lionheart has those of Oh England, My Lionheart is in Kate’s own handwriting; odd when you consider that Kate apparently doesn’t even like the song.

With Symphony In Blue Kate sings from the point of view of a girl who realises the joy of sex is not only what makes life worth living but is essential; “Here we have a purpose in life, good for the blood circulation, good for releasing the tension, the root of our reincarnations”; a liberating mindset from a woman who is only 20.

From Kate’s first three albums, I have decided this is my favourite. Lionheart represents Kate Bush’s musical progression;  It’s more varied and thematic than The Kick Inside and feels more complete than Never for Ever (not that I’m putting down those albums, they’re both also amazing), no two songs here sound alike. My advice is to listen to this album on a cold winter’s night, such atmosphere! Grab your tea and crumpets and be whisked away to Kate’s English dreamland.

The Kick Inside (1978)

The Kate Inside

It was in 2012 in which I had my first exposure to Kate Bush when I heard Running Up That Hill on an ITunes radio station. I was immediately hooked on the song and listened to it many times over the next few weeks. However, at this point in my life, I wasn’t actively exploring music, although just a few years earlier I had been but my love of cinema pushed music the side for a number years so I only knew Kate Bush as that Running Up That Hill singer. Although I thought Running Up That Hill was an incredible song, I assumed she would have been an artist who I would only like one song from. Otherwise how come I had never heard of her until now?

Fast forward to 2014 and I am hearing news reports of Kate Bush embarking on her first series of concerts in 35 years. With this renewed interest in Kate Bush in the media, I heard Wuthering Heights on the radio. “Holy crap!” was my reaction. This was the beginning of my descent into the weird and wacky world of Kate Bush. I HAD to check out this woman’s work. Which I did, followed by checking out the albums, followed by buying them, followed by listening to every song carefully and deciphering every lyric. Kate Bush reignited my interest in music which I had lost over the past few years. How did this woman bypass me for so many years?! Was it due to her reclusive nature, or not having released an album for 12 years of my life (I was born in 1992). I need answers!

Kate Bush doesn’t fit into any one music genre. She is a genre!

 

“What’s your favourite music genre?”

“Kate Bush.”

 

Has there ever been another song in history like Wuthering Heights? Even Kate herself has never made another song like it. How many pop songs base their lyrics of classic literature that makes you want to read the novel it’s based on. Listening to Kate makes you feel smarter. Kate’s story-driven songs such as this always create such a visual image in my head. Although Heathcliff and Cathy are not strictly Kate’s creation, her ability to conjure characters in her songs is unparalleled.

Although The Kick Inside doesn’t have recurring theme like her subsequent albums, being more of a collection of songs, every track stands on its own. Kite is the most bonkers and innocent song on the album, James and the Cold Gun reminds me more of Bruce Springsteen, one of Kate’s least Kate like songs but a superb rocker. The Saxophone Song has a very sinister sounding final minute which I can’t help but listen to over and over again. Them Heavy People is one of Kate’s most infectious songs, it will never leave your head, especially the uttering of “Rolling the ball”; admittedly this song can get a little annoying if you listen to it enough times but I still like it. Strange Phenomena is (apparently) about having a period; Kate Bush, daring to go lyrically where no one else dares! Feel It, on the other hand, makes no effort to disguise that it is about a sex, completely directly and honestly. Wrapping of the album is the title track, which shows how Kate Bush isn’t afraid to experiment with controversial subjects. It’s speculated that the song deals with a brother and sister who have a sexual relationship resulting in her getting pregnant with her baby and the decision to commit suicide rather than brining shame on her brother (just where does she come up with this stuff?). Although we can’t be sure; it’s fun deciphering these songs which are as mysterious as Kate Bush herself.

All the songs on the album make me want to jump around the room and mime-like Kate does in many of her music videos, although I’d probably look like a mad git if I did so. Pop on the album, dim the lights, sit back with your eyes closed and allow The Kick Inside to kick your own insides.