The Beatles’ cartoon classic hits The Belcourt
From black suits and mop-tops to sideburns and sunglasses, The Beatles’ fashion sense was as creative and iconic as the band’s timeless tunes. One of the bands most memorable looks came in the form of their animated avatars, which were featured in the psychedelic cartoon classic Yellow Submarine (1968).
The film is celebrating 50 years with a newly restored and re-mixed theatrical release that’s visiting the Belcourt Theatre July 8-12. Yellow Submarine — and the song that inspired it — are the perfect gateway drug for every new generation of kids interested in The Beatles. But this movie is also a phantasmagorical hallucination of a cartoon that transcends its period thanks to its wondrous and weird creatures, characters, and, of course, submersible aquatic vehicles.
It’s easy to make such pronouncements in hindsight. When Yellow Submarine made its debut on the heels of the Summer of Love, Time raved that the movie delighted “adolescents and aesthetes alike.” And it still does. It wouldn’t surprise me to see throngs of summer vacationing youngsters, rock ‘n’ roll dads, elder hippies, art school kids, and animation cultists streaming into the Belcourt to sit side-by-side for this one. Yellow Submarine is definitely one of The Beatles most successful forays into film exactly because of the balance between visionary fairy tale and druggy rock concept film that George Dunning achieved here.
Dunning found his place in film creating animated advertisements for Canadian television while he developed his distinctively surreal style as an animator in a series of shorts he produced himself. Dunning made his breakthrough when his short “The Apple” won an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) — the equivalent of winning an Oscar — in 1963.
It’s actually sort of a wonder that we still care about this strange, special film five decades later. Yellow Submarine was originally a way for the band to complete a three movie deal with United Artists without having to film a movie – the actual band members only appear in movie’s final scene. The film’s script is really just a succession of set pieces designed to set The Beatles’ songs to fantastical visuals, and the film’s hippie fairy tale pretensions might have seemed silly even in 1968.
Of course the magic that ties all of these wayward threads into a masterful tapestry of mind-expanding cinema is Dunning’s visionary direction and the talents of 200 artists and animators who created this state-of-the-art cartoon scene by scene. Dunning connected the whole thing together seemingly with rainbows and magic dust. The “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” scene delivers a dizzying display of rotoscope animation in a hippie homage to movie musicals that must have inspired a generation of blotter paper designs. Add a menagerie of bizarre creatures and dreamscape settings for some of The Beatles’ most memorable music and Yellow Submarine is a pop art masterpiece of the highest order.
A re-release of a film like Yellow Submarine is a perfect match for an art house theater in a city like Nashville. Offering a chance to see a visionary animated musical masterpiece with restored sounds and sights is pretty much the reason why the Belcourt exists and why music-crazed Nashvillians love the place. I’d love to see this sparkling new version of Yellow Submarine get a bluray box set with a beautiful book and an extras disc packed with lots of new interviews, commentary tracks and making-of documentaries. But, more importantly, I can’t wait to sit in a dark theater hearing those first few notes from Paul McCartney’s Lowrey organ while I stare at the screen just like a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Yellow Submarine screens at the Belcourt Theatre from July 8-12. Go to www.belcourt.org for times and tickets.