August 20, 2009


Variety reports that Robert Zemeckis is brokering a deal with Disney and Apple to remake Yellow Submarine with 3D motion capture technology, and that Disney is working on "a complicated rights deal" that would clear 16 Beatles tunes for use in the film. Zemeckis made the Beatles-related film I Wanna Hold Your Hand in 1978 (which I loved as a thirteen year old Beatles fan).
The storyline of the original Yellow Submarine, directed by George Dunning, was set in Pepperland, an undersea paradise protected by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. When the band is captured by the music-hating Blue Meanies, a soldier is sent to Liverpool to fetch the Fab Four, who hop in the submarine and sail to the rescue. The film traces their odessey to strange places (the Sea of Holes, the Sea of Time, etc), where they meet fantastic characters and monsters. Kind of like a Fab Dirty Dozen, they eventually infiltrate Pepperland, steal instruments from the center of the Blue Meanie's encampment - like a Resistance group might raid a munitions depot - and save the day with music and love. It's a great message in a cool 1960s, surreal setting. I would be weary of a re-envisioning of the film, but something along the lines of the 3D Nightmare Before Christmas project could be quite fun to see.

In a related article from Time (July 23, 2009), Richard Lacayo pays tribute to designer Heinz Edelmann:
Heinz Edelmann, the German graphic artist who was art director of the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine, died this week in Stuttgart at 75. Oddly it was only a few weeks ago, while I was writing about the James Ensor show at MoMA, that I had been thinking about that movie and the whole question of how pop culture influences travel back in forth in art.

In his graphic work and in some of his paintings, Ensor like to draw on cartoonish illustration styles of the late 19th century. That helps to account for the manic draughtmanship of his masterpiece, Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889. It's a painting that has always made me think about the mad street riots that break out on South Park every so often, all those jerkily gesticulating townfolk. I wondered if the South Park guys ever consciously drew on it, or if for them it was just one more part of the primordial ooze of imagery we all have in our heads.

Which brought me back to Yellow Submarine. One thing that struck me when I first encountered it as a teenager in 1968 was the way it had absorbed and blended a whole range of artists and graphic styles I was only just discovering — Aubrey Beardsley prints, the little monsters in Hieronymous Bosch, the French illustrators who created that Victorian high tech look for Jules Verne's novels, Tenniel's illustrations for the Alice books. It was a lot to look at and it made me realize how historic styles could have a lot of juice in them.

It's often said that Edelmann became a big influence on Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python. What he didn't do was a spend a lifetime turning out Yellow Submarine imitations, and so avoided the Peter Max formula trap. It may be that he only produced one truly lasting work, but it's a doozy.

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