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ALL TIME FAVORITES: Yellow Submarine (Rated G, Available through MGM DVD)

September 4, 2008

YELLOW SUBMARINE isn’t just a movie full of great Beatles songs, nor is it merely one of the cleverest and funniest animated musicals around.  It’s a study in artistic styles, and a riot of bright and vibrant colors.  I clearly remember the first time I had the pleasure of seeing this movie.  It was my junior year in high school, the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.  At that time, the only station in my area that had airing rights to SUBMARINE was WLVI, Channel 56 in Boston.  And, as you probably guessed this was the 2 PM movie they were airing that Saturday.  I had seen ads for it a lot over the years, I had classmates in school who could quote lines from it, one classmate in particular decided to use the line of dialogue that leads into “Nowhere Man” to tease me for an entire day, but until that Saturday in 1986, I hadn’t seen this movie.

I decided to give it a shot.  The style was the first thing that caught my attention.  This movie would be my introduction to the pop art styles of Heinz Eidelmann:  very 1960’s (of course), but with plenty of attention to detail, and a patchwork style for some of the clothes that the characters wore.  I also noticed right away that this movie would probably make extensive use of running bits of movement in forward and reverse to simulate movement, and probably to save money on animation.  I knew right away this was no Disney cartoon.

The next thing I noticed about this movie was George Martin’s lush music, particularly in the scenes preceding the Blue Meanies’ attack.  Even though we didn’t have a stereo TV at the time, it sounded full and rich, with the right amount of playfulness to hold your attention.  Of course the style and themes would change throughout the movie as the Fab Four and Young Fred begin their adventures, and to this day I find the music in the Sea of Holes some of the best movie music ever written.

Then came the dialog.  The writing was absolutely great.  For me the first big laugh came when Fred was trying to avoid the Dreadful Flying Glove, and he nervously admonishes the glove that it’s not polite to point.  Just as I recover from that clever bit, Fred is trying to get the Lord Mayor’s attention about the Blue Meanies, demanding to know what the Mayor’s plan is.  Lord Mayor:  “Finish the quartet”, which quickly becomes a solo, as the other three players get zapped with blue rockets.  And those moments are just in the first 5 or 10 minutes before the title song and credits.

I have to say that I think it was the script and the dialog that really sold me on this movie, as the puns and wordplay never seemed to stop coming.  I later learned that clever dialog was indeed a trademark of the Beatles movies, but this one has the overall best.  Honestly, when our heroes enter the Sea of Monsters, I’m on the floor every time, even though I know almost every pun in that scene by heart.  My favorite remains the school of whales bit.  I should point out that some of the jokes did go over my head the first time, as these jokes were references to the SERGEANT PEPPER album, an album I would not receive until the following Christmas.  If you’re not familiar with that classic album, I recommend you listen to it before watching the movie.  Everything will click if you do.

I don’t think I need mention the brilliance of the Beatles’ music for this movie.  Here’s a surprise for you uninitiated:  not all of the music performed by the Beatles in this movie is traditional rock and roll.  Three songs in the early part of the movie follow three very different styles:  “Eleanor Rigby” uses only string instruments (yes, I know, it wasn’t written for the movie, and neither was one of the other songs in the short list), “All Together Now” is a song that sounds like the kind of song British street entertainers used to do.  There’s even an old-fashioned burp horn in the song for sound effects, and then there’s the Ragtime sound of “When I’m 64” from the SERGEANT PEPPER album.  It’s a nice variety, if you ask me.

There were only two problems that I had with this movie in my first viewings, and they were problems that were beyond anyone’s control at that point.  Problem one was that the color palette had faded over 20 years.  So, even though I could make out the color scheme, it wasn’t as bright and sharp as it could be.  Second problem, there were drops and scratches and skips in the soundtrack.  Again, nobody could be blamed for that.  That was just time taking its toll.

I remember recording this movie during a late night playing, because my sister expressed interest in seeing it.  Turned out she enjoyed it even more than I, and got some of the jokes I had missed.  Because the movie was impossible to find in stores, at the time, we held onto it for many years.  You can imagine how thrilled I was when MGM announced about 10 years ago that they were going to restore this movie, and enhance it for the new DVD technology that had begun to surface.  I bought both the VHS and the DVD (as my first computer had a DVD drive), and the movie was brand new to me all over again, and even better, as now I would not have to hear drops in the soundtrack or see smudges on the edge of the film stock.  So, if you’re an art student, if you love classic rock and roll, if you love movies with clever dialog and likeable characters, or if you fit all four categories, then I highly recommend this movie to you.  I promise you’ll feel great afterwards.

Oh, before I forget, the Beatles themselves did not perform the dialog in the movie.  This was done by a small handful of actors, one of whom went on to star in one of England’s most successful sitcoms.  The sitcom is KEEPING UP APPEARANCES.  The actor is Geoffrey Hughes, who did Paul’s speaking voice.  There’s another bit of watercooler trivia for you.

EDIT:  According to the Internet Movie Database, the movie is supposedly out of circulation except through amazon.com, and it might not come cheap either.  Hopefully MGM will see fit to put it back out there again soon.

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