A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Yellow Submarine (1968)

August 8, 2010

Yellow Submarine

I was raised on Beatles music. My parents had a fairly large collection of LPs when I was growing up, about three quarters of which were various classical music performances and one quarter of which were music from the sixties. We had some Joan Baez, some Arlo Guthrie, some Country Joe and the Fish, some Crosby Stills and Nash… and about every Beatles album ever. I’d sit for hours by the old stereo record player they had in a cabinet in the living room wearing the enormous pair of Koss headphones they had and losing myself in the music. I’d only eventually stop when the headphones would pinch my little head so much that I started to get a headache. So I was already intimately familiar with the music of this movie when I eventually first saw it.

I can remember twice seeing Yellow Submarine in a theater setting. Once was at the old Pi Alley theater I think. I would have been about six or seven at the time, so it was around 1978 or ‘79. Probably ‘78 for a tenth anniversary re-release. Later on I remember seeing it as part of a film series at the Boston Public Library. At the time I clearly wouldn’t have gotten any of the many psychedelic references in the movie, much less puns like “What day is it?” “Sitarday.” for the introduction of George. For me it was just a grand animated adventure film set to Beatles music.

You have to remember that this was in the days before cable television and long before MTV. This was, in a way, an introduction to the concept of music videos. Only with an overarching plot. Thinking about it now I realize that since only one song in the movie was really written for it (Northern Song, since Hey Bulldog is only on this extended special edition and was not in the movie when it first came out) this film has a lot in common with Across the Universe, which we have already reviewed. It takes a bunch of Beatles songs and re-purposes them to fit the movie. In most cases the songs are only tangentially related to the movie – as with Eleanor Rigby and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. In other cases they make an effort to explain in the plot how the song is related such as with When I’m Sixty-Four and Nowhere Man. It doesn’t even have any real Beatles in it until the closing credits – it’s all Beatles impersonators.

None of this, however, keeps the movie from being a wonderful thing. The tale of a magical legendary utopia deep under the sea that is besieged by evil Blue Meanies that can only be conquered through the power of music is so unique, so evocative, and so compelling that it never ceases to lighten my heart. The animation is quirky, with a load of strangely proportioned cartoon characters and plenty of rotoscoping, black and white photographs and cycled animation. But the Beatles are recognizably themselves, and I love the Blue Meanies themselves and their odd collection of armaments. The bonkers who clobber people with the Apple Corps logo. The creepy armless clowns whose noses, when pressed, cause things to explode. And of course the leering animated blue glove. All of them are so strange, like nothing you’d see in any other film.

I love the mythology of Pepperland and the strange cosmology of the many seas that the Beatles must traverse to reach it. The sea of time, the sea of science, the sea of monsters, the sea of holes and the sea of green. I’ve always loved Jeremy (or Hillary or Boob or P.H.d.) the nowhere man… he’s such a strange and tragic figure.

Of course what makes the movie more than anything else is the music. Throughout tonight’s viewing I found myself quoting the horrible puns, grinning and humming along to the catchy Beatles tunes. It’s easy to believe that music like this really could defeat the Blue Meanies of the world, and that in the end all you really need is love.

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August 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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