Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Yellow Submarine

Last week I got Yellow Submarine on DVD. It is one of my favourite movies from childhood. I remember that CBS used to show Yellow Submarine every July 4th. Naturally, I watched it every time. In 1987, Yellow Submarine was released on VHS. One of my friends had a copy, so I was able to see Yellow Submarine for the first time in years. As a young adult I was still impressed with the film, Indeed, I was able to appreciate many of the jokes that went over my head as a child.

Of course, the version issued on DVD in 1999 was not the version released on VHS here in the United States in 1987. After Yellow Submarine was released in the United Kingdom, it was decided that the movie ran too long. As a result, two sequences were cut for the American release. The first sequence to be cut was one in which The Beatles met their counterparts from Pepperland, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The other sequence was the one involving the song "Hey, Bulldog." This was the version that was shown in American theatres, shown on American television, and released on VHS in the States in 1987. The 1999 DVD release, both in America and in Europe, is the original British version, complete with the Beatles meeting Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and "Hey, Bulldog."

Having watched the movie repeatedly since I got the DVD, I can say that it stands the test of time. If anything, I can appreciate it more as a middle aged man than as a child or a young adult. When it was released, Yellow Submarine was a bold departure from any animated film that had been made before. Each sequence was done in a slightly different style, ranging from the "Eleanor Rigby" sequence, which drew upon actual photos of Liverpool and real people, to the Pop Art style of the "Only a Northern Song" sequence. Yellow Submarine was the first animated feature to draw upon the Pop Art of the day, psychedelia, Op Art, and many other modern artistic styles. It was also the first animated film with a rock soundtrack and the first animated feature with characters based upon real people (The Beatles). Today, Yellow Submarine still has a unique look; no other animated film looks quite like it. Of course, if one does not care for Pop Art or Sixties psychedelia, he or she might well find the film more annoying than enjoyable. Fortunatly, I like both Pop Art and psycedelia!

It has often been said that Yellow Submarine has a loose narrative and I have to admit that to a large degree this is true. That having been said, however, while the narrative may be loose, it is also a strong narrative. As John notes in the film, The Beatles' adventures aboard the Yellow Submarine are reminiscent of those of a Mr. Ulysses. Yellow Submarine is the Sixties equivalent of The Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, and Gulliver's Travels. I suppose students of Joseph Campbell might consider it another variation of the Heroic Journey. Beyond its literary roots as a modern odyssey, Yellow Submarine is rife with satire. Many of the characters and situations are satircal looks at various aspects of pop culture and Sixties society. Of course, Yellow Submarine is also very much a comedy. Indeed, like The Beatles' films A Hard Day's Night and Help!, the jokes are almost non-stop and of all varieties. The one-liners range from Henny Youngman style jokes to puns to literary references to injokes involving Beatles songs. If one has a low tolerance for non-stop one liners, I suppose he or she wouldn't like the film. Fortuntely, I like non-stop one liners.

Finally, I have to admit that I am a bit mystified as to why they cut the sequence in which The Beatles meet Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the "Hey, Bulldog" sequence. In the case of the meeting between The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, it does explain some things that were a bit of a mystery in the American version of the film. As to the "Hey, Bulldog" sequence, it is a very funny and well done sequence, remniscent of both silent comedies and the cartoon shorts of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I must also point out that "Hey, Bulldog" is probably the best of the four original songs written for the film ("Only a Northern Song," "All Together Now," "It's All Too Much," and "Hey, Bulldog"). Indeed, "Hey, Bulldog" has always been one of my favourite Beatles songs! At any rate, I don't see that these two sequences make the movie run longer. If anything, they add a good deal more enjoyment to an already enjoyable movie.

I loved Yellow Submarine as a child. I still love Yellow Submarine. If you have never seen it, I remcommend that you do, especially if you love The Beatles, Sixties Pop Art and psychedelia, or animated films.

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