This review is by Amy Hughes…
More often than not, understanding the impact of The Beatles is first formed by our personal experiences and then interactions and collaborations with like-minded individuals. Whether through music or books or films, new and improved impressions help to see what wasn’t available ‘back in the day.’ And as an archaeologist of Beatle-knowledge, I welcome those finds as a breath of fresh air.
Created as a supplemental companion, It’s All In The Mind (Hieronimus & Co., Inc. Publications, 2021) is another deep dive (Volume 1 – ‘Inside The Yellow Submarine’ – having been published in 2002) into one of The Beatles most storied movies: how the animated ‘Yellow Submarine’ was concepted, created and put together in a blindingly fast, short period of time.
Although not known to the general public at the time, there was no finished script, no complete narrative in the timeline for ‘normal’ animation. While those around them struggled to find ways to keep the film on track (chronicled here by impossible deadlines and diminishing budgets), the animators and artists furiously working at their desks at London’s TV Cartoons (TVC) would have little to no idea if a sequence was coherent or how it fit into the grand scheme of the movie. That the film was finished at all (read the passages on the ‘kidnapping’ of the almost-completed footage) is testament to everyone’s emotional commitment to the feature and unwavering dedication to The Beatles.
Historians Robert Hieronimus (affectionately known as “Dr. Bob”) and Laura Cortner have continued the narrative from Vol. 1 and found the people, traveled the avenues and asked the questions that so many of us take for granted when it comes to ‘Yellow Submarine:’ detailing the lives of the creators, animators, their families, the hard-nosed business aspects and the free-wheeling comradery that helped to keep this sub afloat for the 11-month engagement (and for some, beyond). To that end, many of the stories coming from the crew were alternately hysterical (read: “The Distasteful Floating Poop Sign” entry) and touching (an entire chapter devoted to art director Heinz Edelmann from Dr. Bob is revelatory and personal).
In addition, Dr. Bob and Cortner have also included their personal thoughts about the film’s (possible?) hidden messages – were there any and if so, what was the meaning we as an audience should glean from it? Dovetailing into that, there are also passages that showcase alternate storylines and characters that never saw the light of day, providing thought-provoking, what-might-have-been’s had events turned out differently.
Helming all this organized chaos were a group of dedicated visionaries that at the time had no plan or purpose where their ground-breaking work would lead: director George Dunning (unassuming by nature, but determined to push boundaries), animation directors Robert Balser (the creative glue that kept everyone together) and Jack Stokes (a beloved character and one of the few that connected with all four Beatles), special sequences director Charlie Jenkins (his ‘Eleanor Rigby’ segment and the ending scene for ‘It’s All Too Much’ are legendary) and art director Heinz Edelmann (“astonishingly creative” a superlative not uncommon in describing his work.) Among the points to be made crystal clear: Edelmann was the one responsible for the style and feel of the film – from character development to backgrounds – his unique vision and distinctive color palette shaped the flow for all involved. And to be blunt: artist Peter Max (world-renowned in his own right) had ZERO to do with ‘Yellow Submarine.’ The authors make no bones in their opinions about Max’s decades-long fabrications that he invented the ‘look’ or was instrumental in the film’s making. To quote the book “‘Yellow Submarine’ was not his design.”
As mentioned, great lengths are taken to include a dozen or so personnel in Vol. 2 who were involved in the day-to-day creation of the film. Most did not receive screen credit in 1968, yet their contributions were key: Cam Ford (who gives the book added weight from his concise personal recollections and photos from inside TVC), Chris Caunter, Malcolm Draper, Lawrence Moorcroft, Diana Ford, Norm Drew and Ramon Modiano. Their memories – day-to-day activities, inspiration from the co-creators, hijinks, familial gatherings at the local pub The Dog and Duck, visits from notorious producer Al Brodax and their deep love for Edelmann – are invaluable and insightful, giving new meaning to “hard work” and “fun” over the course of what Drew called “this wonderful graphic banquet.”
As a side note: one group of men who need attention: the voice actors for The Beatles. Despite the Beatles live-action inclusion at the very end, it was John Clive, Paul Angelis, Geoffrey Hughes and Peter Batten (who was later arrested for being AWOL and had his work finished by Angelis) who went almost uncredited for their work. Cleverly disguised for recognition by higher-ups, their talents were “Blue-Meanie-d” at the time and have only become more prominent since anniversary screenings now give them the recognition they deserve.
The film has gained more mileage in the years since it’s release due to the accelerated interest in animation, pre-CGI. To wit: ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ with it’s contributions from animator extraordinaire Bill Sewell’s visuals to Diana Ford’s detailing how she drove the rotoscoping ‘bicycle,’ to the Trace and Paint department’s literal hands-on input is fascinating from a making-of standpoint. With that history, the book makes the argument that a remake or why the almost-happened Robert Zemeckis 3-D motion capture version (which was deep-sixed in 2012) cannot occupy the same space as the original.
Quite honestly, it’s hard to encapsulate in this review all the personalities that saw ‘Yellow Submarine’ through from beginning to end. What is most appreciated from a reader who goes through ‘It’s All In The Mind’ (and Vol 1. ‘Inside The Yellow Submarine’) is the resolve of the talented, global team in making this film something they would be proud of, knowing it was a labor of love for The Beatles first and foremost. Dr. Bob and Cortner should also be given major credit for undertaking this logistical journey, championing the behind-the-scenes innovators, chronicling the imaginative environment and dispelling myths while letting the crewmembers impart their fascinating anecdotes that gave ‘Yellow Submarine’ it’s unmistakable character.
With the appreciation that has grown for ‘Yellow Submarine’ over the past 50 years, plentiful inclusions of color sketches from Edelmann, private snaps from the lens of Cam Ford, stories aplenty in the behind-the-scenes battles (and wins!) and the details of how particular scenes were created…
I’m giving this book: 4 out of 4 beetles