Monday, March 26, 2018

Yellow Submarine - 1968


In 1963, the Beatles signed a three-picture movie deal with United Artists. They made the first two films, as agreed upon, in quick, neat order. The first, A Hard Day's Night, released in 1964, was loved by all, fans and critics alike. It made a huge profit and became an instant classic. Help!, the second Beatles movie, was made in 1965 and made a bundle as well. This time reviews were mixed, with critics scrutinizing its flaws, the honeymoon over. Help!, although the higher-budgeted of the two films, was seen as a disappointment to many, the Beatles included, and most especially to John Lennon. Lennon was to always cite Help! as being "crap" and other not-so-gracious epithets. In retrospect and through the lens of time and Technicolor, the film comes off as a playful romp full of colorful scenes and imaginative comedy that stands the test of time.

With the mess that was Magical Mystery Tour, it was time to regroup, and out of that came Yellow Submarine. Al Brodax was an American producer who created the Saturday morning Beatles cartoon series in 1965. The Beatles cartoons were a smash hit, generating huge ratings. Brodax was concurrently in the process of creating a full-length animated feature film "starring" the Beatles themselves. It would feature Beatle songs with the Beatles doing voice-overs and playing themselves. The Fab Four, unable to face actually "acting" and "going in front of the cameras" again, agreed to this compromise. While initially it was conceived that The Beatles would do the voices, the unexpected death Brian Epstein, from a drug overdose, in August of 1967, John, Paul, George and Ringo bowed out. Four actors were summarily signed up to supply the boy's voices.

But the Beatles did supply four brand-new songs for the film's soundtrack. "That'll do for the film," Lennon would say sarcastically, whenever the Beatles had recorded a mediocre, lesser song. The Beatles, after contributing the four so-so songs, thereby washed their hands of the project and thought that pesky 1963 contract had been fulfilled. After it's completion, the Beatles were given a private screening of Yellow Submarine and were surprised and delighted with the results. They loved the movie and even agreed to personally film a one-minute cameo to be shown at the tail end of the film. John and Paul were both to later regret not having more to do with the production.

John was to claim, however, throughout the remainder of his life, that the Yellow Submarine people stole many of his ideas, without giving him any formal screen credit. According to John: "They used to come to the studio and chat: 'Hi John, old bean, got any ideas for the film?' and I'd just spout out all this stuff, and they went off and did it." Lennon would exaggerate and "play the victim" in countless Beatle-related anecdotes over the years, but this claim does seem justified from available evidence.

The only publicly agreed-upon story is that one night at 3:00 in the morning, John called up the producer and said "Wouldn't it be great if Ringo was walking down the street being followed by a yellow submarine?" This exact scene is shown at the beginning of the film.

The Beatles attended the film's official premiere in July of 1968 (Lennon escorting his new live-in girlfriend, Yoko Ono, although he was still married to his wife, Cynthia, at the time). George Harrison, always a man very hard to please, said: "I liked the film. I think it's a classic. The film works for every generation." Ringo added, "I loved Yellow Submarine. I thought it was really innovative, with great animation."

During the making of Yellow Submarine, the Beatles met the film's animator, Heinz Edelman, for one or two meetings. According to Edelman, Ringo was the only Beatle to make any requests of the animator. Ringo actually complained that "his nose should be bigger," said Edelman.

The film's soundtrack was comprised of a majority of previously-released material and for some strange, inexplicable reason, John's superb song "Hey Bulldog" was edited out of the American version of the film. Fortunately, the "Hey Bulldog" song and animated sequence was restored for the film's video release. Yellow Submarine, a quintessential "period piece" for the 1960's, has aged well and probably remains the most popular and well-known Beatles film. It did not, by the way, fulfill Beatles' legal commitment to UA and so another film would still be required under contract. 

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