Every critic has a quick answer to the question, “What is your favorite film of all time?” For Noah, it has always been Yellow Submarine.
“I was 9-and-a-half years old when my father made me accompany him on the Long Island Rail Road into NYC just to see this film on the big screen,” he says. “The impact on me was obvious. I believe this is one of the greatest animated films of all time. At the time it was released, it was ahead of its time.”
The best films, the ones we remember, become the foundation of stories beyond the narratives onscreen, and that’s certainly the case with George Dunning’s 1968 animated musical fantasy (Dennis Abey helmed the live action sequence).
“It came out at a time,” Noah explains, “when nearly all input entering my brain was filled with Peter Max posters, anti-war demonstrations, love generation philosophy and psychedelica. Thanks to my older sister, who snuck out of the house at age 13 to attend the Woodstock Music Festival in ’69, I was well aware of the dramatic cultural shift occurring in the U.S.
through the music, images and rhetoric funneling through her world. I was the wide-eyed observer absorbing it all like a sponge. When the John Lennon character declared in the film, ‘All you need is love’ as his solution to the group’s problems, it absolutely made sense. Now, at age 53, the film’s appeal is as strong as ever.”
My own memories of the first time I saw the film come from television, probably a decade after its release in theaters. By that time I was an only child, likely the same age as Noah when he saw it with his father, and while I lacked an older sibling to provide additional context, Yellow Submarine still captivated me with its pitch-perfect union of animation and music.
As a critic, I would compare Yellow Submarine to Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, which also incorporated Beatles tunes in its almost musical-revue styled live action narrative. Universe, with its weak romance that is too in love with its on-the-nose use of the songs — like most musicals — fails to achieve the timelessness of Yellow Submarine, which works as well today because it embraces the psychedelic mind-bending spirit of the age and now serves as an entry-point for the generations that have followed.
To some extent it is sad that we, as a film culture, are shunning such classic original fare with unique characters; instead, we transform and update older hits so that they look and feel contemporary. The Three Stooges have been remixed and reloaded in the Farrelly Brothers’ remake and Steve Martin has given us his take on Inspector Clouseau in two Pink Panther reboots, but do we need computer-generated Blue Meanies, digitally sterilized images, displacing those lively analog frames? Stories abound of the nightmares inspired by the Meanies; will our fancy technology truly be able to top those painterly fanciful dreams?
I am more than willing to concede that there is great potential in Beatles mash-up projects like Danger Mouse’s legendary mixtape The Grey Album, which sublimely fused The White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album. In many significant ways, Yellow Submarine stands as a precursor to The Grey Album, in that the film seamlessly integrates the music of the Beatles into a distinct and separate visual narrative, while allowing their essence to remain intact. Thirty years from now, will music producers talk about remaking The Grey Album?
All we need is to love and respect our collective memories. That’s all we need. (G) Grade: A
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