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Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles' Animated Classic

Brett Rogers reviews Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus' book on the history of the Yellow Submarine and uncovers a clever and accurate account of the film's chaotic history.

It took nearly 30 years of research, interviewing and compiling to complete, but Inside the Yellow Submarine has arrived to set the record straight on the conception and creation of 1968's groundbreaking Yellow Submarine. Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus brings to his book a genuine enthusiasm for documenting the circumstances surrounding Yellow Submarine's production and dispelling commonly held misconceptions about the film, like widespread drug use among the animators, Peter Max's influence and the Beatles' contribution to the film.

As Hieronimus wrote in an e-mail to the reviewer, "Getting to the truth from the co-creators was a very long and costly process, but I stuck to it because when I learned that it wasn't The Beatles who created this enduring work of art, I realized that these under appreciated artists deserved to have their story told for posterity."

Like A Diary

The book is written in a unique, absorbing style; largely comprised of accounts from the film's creators in their own words, it reads as if Hieronimus has uncovered a diary kept jointly by all of Yellow Submarine's co-creators to record their experiences.

Though the unusual style sometimes fragments the book, it would have significantly less value if Hieronimus had fashioned the often contentious and conflicting first-hand accounts into a more conventional format. You're getting the details straight from the mouths of those who brought Yellow Submarine from concept to screen, complete with all the conflicting accounts and failing memories of the personality clashes, creative differences, logistical problems and countless other tribulations faced by the film's creators. Hieronimus cleverly organizes the accounts and provides just enough guidance and commentary to allow readers to reach their own conclusions of who among the film's creators were Blue Meanies and who were Pepperlanders.

As such, Inside the Yellow Submarine is an indispensable companion to the movie. One cannot fully appreciate the film until learning the remarkable story behind its creation.

Those frustrated with the power struggles and art-stifling financial oversight that often plague animated productions will take solace in the experiences of TV Cartoons London in creating Yellow Submarine. As Hieronimus writes, the book demonstrates that "the creative process is a struggle. Some of your best ideas and work can be lost because of corporate decisions, creative stress, lack of funding and time."

Though scores of voices shout from the book's pages to trumpet their own contributions to the success of Yellow Submarine, the genius of designer Heinz Edelmann is undeniable. The book goes to great lengths to ensure that the Czech designer receives proper credit as the "father of Yellow Submarine art." Edelmann, who had never worked in animation, was recruited by TV Cartoons to ensure that Yellow Submarine broke from the style in which they previously animated the ABC television Beatletoons. Though he now views his work on the film as a stifling influence on the rest of his career, the designs Edelmann created are what give Yellow Submarine its distinctive style. Without his influence, the film might have ended up looking like, as Paul McCartney wanted, a Disney film.

Behind the Book!

Of course, no Yellow Submarine book would be complete without a bit of counter-culture. The author is a self-described "pioneer in the 'New Paradigm' movement," whose nationally syndicated radio talk show, 21st Century Radio, tackles topics including UFOs, mysticism and the supernatural. He has painted symbolism-rich murals in several high-profile locations, including Johns Hopkins University.

Hieronimus began researching the "symbols, mythologies and related ancient legends" he perceived in Yellow Submarine in December 1968. Though the book's publisher, Krause Publications decided to excise the chapters in which he explored the symbolism of Yellow Submarine, Hieronimus remains convinced that the hectic pace at which the film's creators worked provides a window into the nature of creativity: "With any great work of art, powerful symbolic imagery can often be identified that was not consciously implied by the artist, writer or composer. Throughout history great artists have testified to experiencing the creative force flowing through them, and being scarcely conscious of what they were creating until it was done."

Despite the harrowing experiences of the film's creators, Inside the Yellow Submarine demonstrates that perseverance and dedication to vision can result in a finished product that, 34 years later, is still remarkably entertaining.

Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles' Animated Classic by Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002. 430 pages. ISBN: 0-87349-360-5 (paperpack US$24.95)

Brett Rogers is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.