Most animation and Beatles fans know Yellow Submarine is a great film, but why did it take 17 years for MGM to revive this classic in theaters and 12 years to bring it back to video stores? Karl Cohen relates the unusual circumstances that led to the film's re-emergence on the silver screen.
Most animation and Beatles fans know Yellow Submarine (1968) is a great film, but it took 17 years to get MGM to revive this classic in theaters and 12 years to bring it back to video stores. The restored "director's cut" will premiere in 10 to 20 cities starting with Boston (Brattle) and Seattle (Egyptian) on September 1. Finally a new generation will have a chance to see one of the most influential animated films of all-time on a big screen.The July, 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine ran "The Beatles' Yellow Submarine Turns 30: John Coates And Norman Kauffman Look Back" on the making of the film, and "The Creators of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine: Where Are They Now?" which focuses on the people behind the scenes. When the film was initially released there was hardly any press coverage about the people who actually made the film, and nothing was said about the nightmarish story behind the making of this classic. The media continues to publish many errors about the production including false statements that the Beatles did the dialog tracks for their animated characters in the film. This incorrect information can even be found in a well known Internet movie site. The Animation World article sets the record straight and includes interviews with John Coates, the film's forgotten producer, and Norman Kauffman. This new update covers the unusual circumstances that led to the film's re-emergence on the silver screen.Drumming Up Support The original article, "The Beatles' Yellow Submarine Turns 30," ended with my seeing the film again in Israel in 1997 and meeting the film's producer. On my return to San Francisco I told Gary Meyer, a film executive who once booked films for the UC Theater in Berkeley and the Landmark chain, that somebody should show the director's cut in 1998, the film's 30th anniversary. Meyer called MGM distribution and was told nobody else had expressed interest in seeing it again in theaters. They had no interest in having it shown again. Meyer talked with other people who book films and was told that when they had tried to rent it they were told the same story.Last year there was talk of a video release of the film in 1999. Although plans for the video release went forward, there was still reluctance to release the film on film. Meyer was told an MGM video division executive thought theatrical release of the film would hurt home video sales. Meyer talked to Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin and other critics who said they would give the re-release excellent coverage. There was even a possible booking for it at Radio City Music Hall in New York City if MGM wanted to give it to them. Despite Meyer's efforts, it seems MGM didn't believe there was a solid market in theaters for this classic.
Anita Monga, who books films for the Castro theater in San Francisco, had also been trying for many months to book the film. She had called and written MGM several times and her requests were always turned down despite the theater's exceptional reputation for premiering restored classics. Meyer got word there was a staff change at MGM and suggested to Monga to try again.The big break came when an executive from Universal, Bruce Markoe, joined the MGM distribution staff. He had worked on the successful release of the restored "director's cut" of Touch of Evil, so Markov championed the re-release of Yellow Submarine and having it restored on film before it was going to be transferred to video. Soon, the Castro got a call inviting them to book the film.At first Monga believed the Castro was going to be the only theater to show the restored film. News of her 13 day booking spread to other cities. MGM now plans to screen the film in 10 - 20 cities starting in September. All theaters will be equipped with the new DTS stereo systems. MGM publicity suggests both the restored picture and new stereo soundtrack are exceptional. There are hints that film prints will be available next year for 1 and 2 day runs at othertheaters.
A Big Event
In recent months the reissue of the video has become important industry news. The remixed and remastered sound track will also be used on a new record album. The album will include several new songs that replace instrumental numbers by George Martin on the original record. "Hey Bulldog," the "lost" song from the film, will return on the album, but will also be sold as a single. On August 30, the Yellow Submarine reissue campaign begins in England with a Yellow Submarine Day in Liverpool. They expect 100,000 or possibly 200,000 fans to come for live concerts, to see the restored movie on the big screen, etc. The usual rumors are out about the remaining three Beatles being there. One has them playing music while floating down Liverpool's river on the deck of a submarine painted yellow. New Beatles merchandise, licensed by Sony's licensing division (headquartered in San Francisco), is about to appear in stores around the world. There are Yellow Sub clocks, calendars and lots of other items. A British magazine has announced one item will be a Yellow Submarine cell phone ringer light. Seeing the producer's video copy of the film projected to a large audience in Israel was a wonderful experience. The film is still fresh and exciting with brilliant and innovative visuals. The surreal animals, mechanical inventions, the use of words and numbers on the screen, and other playful touches remain wonderful whimsical creations. The awful puns and non-sequiturs remain delightfully corny. The simple plot is still plausible enough to take one along on this adventure to save Pepperland. Only a sour old cynic would want to see the Blue Meanies win. If you love the music of the Beatles, you'll probably have their tunes dancing around in your head for days after you see Yellow Submarine.
You can see the Yellow Submarine in these locations, but keep an eye out as other dates and locations are hopefully added:Boston: Brattle, September 1-9, 1999.Seattle: Egyptian, September 1-16, 1999.Los Angeles: Nuart, September 3-9, 1999.Minneapolis: The Uptown, September 3-9, 1999.San Francisco: Castro, September 3-15, 1999.Chicago: Music Box, September 10-16, 1999.San Diego: The Hillcrest, September 10-16, 1999.New York: Union Square, September 10-17, 1999.Denver: The Esquire, September 10-17, 1999.Karl Cohen is President of ASIFA-San Francisco. His first book,Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, is published by McFarland Publishers. He also teaches animation history at San Francisco State University.