The Beatles are very important to me. I’ve held them dear for my entire life, will argue at length with anybody who tries to criticise their music wholesale, and have often utilised them for wonderfully vengeful purposes (it’s simple, if you put on bad music in Jim’s Bar, I am going to put on Revolution #9 several times). The music itself aside, their films are wonderfully eclectic, often making little-to-no sense but always vastly entertaining due to the personalities of the Fab Four themselves. A Hard Day’s Night was the most level-headed, a madcap chronicle of the band’s tour; Help saw them facing off against an evil cult; and I have pretty much no real recollection of what Magical Mystery Tour is about, if indeed it’s about anything. Yellow Submarine appealed to me most as a child because it was a cartoon, but that only aids the film as the craziest of all the Beatles films, and one which, when I watched it as an adult for the first time,makes me wonder what kind of mad childhood I must’ve had to have worshipped this…. thing.
The film opens in Pepperland, a green, joyous country with perpetual dancing and music, as it is being invaded by the Blue Meanies, who despise music, attack with paralyzing apples and the Dreadful Flying Glove, and only accept “no” as an answer. A man called Fred manages to escape in the yellow submarine that rests on top of a pyramid, and he flies through the opening credits to land in Liverpool. He calls on the Beatles to help him save Pepperland and restore music to his homeland, and they travel in the submarine through the Sea of Time, Monsters, Holes, and at one point, nothing at all. Here they meet Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D, the Nowhere Man, a manic poet Ewok munchkin being who joins them, and they use their musical talents to save Pepperland and live happily ever acid. This is the most succinct synopsis I can muster, but you should know that through every little section of the film comes songs, crazy nonsense and some truly absurd comedy.
I think it’s easy to see why I liked it at a child – it had the Beatles and funny cartoon shenanigans. Jeremy is frequently called a boob; John Lennon is apparently Frankenstein’s monster; in the Sea of Time, everybody is aged and de-aged to their opposite extremes, naturally while they sing “When I’m Sixty-Four”. In the Sea of Monsters, Ringo is chased by several creatures of various descriptions, before a big sucker monster comes and eats them all, and eventually eats reality itself. Just as a visual cacophony of colourful sound and images, it works; it’s probably used a brainwashing technique by somebody, somewhere.
So coming back to it as an adult, I’m surprised the film didn’t give me a craving for LSD at the age of eight. It even has the sequence with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” that’s meant to be a bit surreal, but it just seems normal in the context of the rest of the film. In reality, there’s just not a lot of say or analyse about Yellow Submarine; it’s just a really fucking silly film. The main four (not voiced by the Beatles, but by soundalikes, though the actual band appear at the end) come out with terrible jokes, things happen because of reasons and it’s all resolves with a big happy-clappy singalong where they all ascend into the sky for some reason. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for death. There’s that wondefully existential moment where, in the Sea of Time, they pass an identical yellow submarine carrying their doppelgangers, heading in the other direction in time. And then they all sprout big grey beards.
At the same time, there is a strange intellectualism about certain aspects, probably as a result of being made by 1960s hipsters high on absolutely everything. As a showcase of psychedelic pop art, it’s practically unparalleled. It goes from zany creatures with large teeth and horns and clanky bits to a more scientific exploration of waveforms and shapes during “Only a Northern Song”. The Sea of Holes creates disorientating proportions as everyone jumps in and out of holes at different sides. While in the Sea of Nothing, the Beatles paint the blank canvas with all the colours. It is at times a rather beautiful looking film, but then they call Jeremy a boob and drop a giant apple on someone and it brings you back to lunacy.
It’s honestly far too difficult to sum up the film without just mentioning some choice moments that I enjoy. Even then, I’ll have missed out the million other moment you’d want to see too. It is, in short, an LSD trip of a film, and may even warrant narcotic classification. You may hate it, but if you’re a fan of the Beatles (and that means everyone) then at worst you’ll come out of it completely baffled, though quite amused. A children’s film it is not, or at least it shouldn’t be, but it appealed to me as a younger so I imagine it appeals to many more. But I think it should be best appreciated in a similar vein to The Room, with friends, mockery and a lot of alcohol.
(The film is on Youtube in its entirety. I implore you to watch it. It’s truly an experience of a lifetime. If you only have ten minutes, stick it on at any random point in the film and let it slide over you.)[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cncDgeJLswY]