John Lennon’s interest in the 1960s avant-garde is well-documented, but it is less well-known that Paul McCartney – the man who gave us The Frog Chorus and Mull of Kintyre – was also a staunch supporter of the avant-garde. He famously attended a lecture in 1965 by the experimental Italian composer Luciano Berio, which was invaded, to Berio’s consternation, by scuffling paparazzi looking for the mop-topped star.
This interest in 1960s experimentalism partly explains why The Beatles granted permission for the making of the full-length animated film, Yellow Submarine. However, it is also rumoured that they agreed to the making of the film to avoid the contractual obligation of appearing in a third Beatles live-action movie. As George Harrison explained: ‘The thing I liked most about the movie was that we didn’t really have anything to do with it. They just took our music, we met them, and then Heinz Edelmann went off and created all these characters, showed them to us and that was basically it.’
Heinz Edelmann is Yellow Submarine’s presiding genius. It is his design and art direction that makes the film a classic and a work of enduring visual invention. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1934, Edelmann’s style was a quintessentially 1960s melding of Pop Art, MC Escher and the American cult illustrator Peter Max. Yellow Submarine is justly revered in animation circles, and its influence can be seen today in The Simpsons, where the vivid, flat colours echo Edelmann’s film. Yellow Submarine is a work of high-psychedelia. Yet Edelmann was no hippy acid-head: ‘I had never taken any drugs,’ he noted in an interview. ‘I’m a conservative, working class person who sticks to booze… so I just knew about the psychedelic experience… I guessed what it was.’ Paul McCartney had no doubts about the film’s psychedelic credentials: ‘To me it kind of seemed surprisingly modern. It’s quite trippy, it’s a bit of a “head” film really, although apparently kids do like it,’ he said. Well, a new generation of ‘kids’ can ‘get into’ Yellow Submarine via a book published by Apple and children’s book imprint Walker Books.
Sadly, the book isn’t a patch on the movie. The famous luminosity of the film can’t be captured in four-colour printing, and what seemed mercurial and vivid on the screen is static and one-dimensional in print. Yellow Submarine’s tripped-out surrealism (viz the famous ‘sea of holes’ sequence – pictured above), its courageous combination of animation techniques, its wonkily brilliant script and its admittedly dated 1960s charm, simply doesn’t translate into the book format.
There have been Yellow Submarine books and magazines before, but other than to cash in on the lucrative Beatles’ collectors market, it’s hard to see who will buy this 40-page book. My advice is to buy the DVD, then go and score a tab of… oh, never mind, just watch the film. It’s a trip.
Yellow Submarine is published on 6 September by Walker Books, priced £12.99