I am told that Pick Of The Week has been a Cinapse institution since the site started, more than three years ago. Which is not, strictly speaking, true: it actually started in March of 2014. But that doesn’t make it any less of an honor and a privilege to be the one to write its final entry. Though, to be fair, a more accurate statement would be I am honored to have a name that comes low enough in the alphabet that by default, I’m the one to wrap things up.
Besides hopefully being a fun and entertaining read for you, our semi-loyal supporters, Pick of the Week served an important purpose to us, The Fine Folks of Cinapse: It was our chance to basically write whatever movie we wanted. Which probably doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal, until you’re trying to find 1,000 words to write about the new Adam Sandler movie that isn’t just you typing “Fuck this shit” 333 times and then throwing in an extra “fuck” to meet quota.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t have word quotas here. Though if we did, it would be much lower than your general output. For the love of god, learn to truncate, would you?)
Pick Of The Week was a safe space where you could write about the movies that truly meant something to you without having to worry about tying it in to the latest release, or whatever trend was currently all the rage in Hollywood. You could write about anything you wanted. You could call attention to a cult classic comedy that not nearly enough people know about. You could share with the world your special little pick-me-up film for when you’re feeling down. You could mount a defense of the most underrated Dirty Harry movie of them all. Or you could share a touching remembrance of a departed loved one, crouched in the shared memory of a French classic. I mean, if two of us really wanted to, we could both write about the exact same movie and it’d be totally cool.
Hell, we could even write up a movie loosely affiliated with but not actually starring the Beatles. Though who would ever do a thing like that?
The point is, there’s nothing better for people who love writing about movies to get the chance to write about the movies they love. Which, in my typically roundabout manner, brings me to Yellow Submarine.
Apparently, most people are able to remember the exact moment a piece of art changed their life. But for the life of me, I can’t remember when I first sat down to watch Yellow Submarine. All I can recall is that it was way later than it should have been. As a rabid animation fan, I would watch just about anything, as long as it was a cartoon. I even had dreams of becoming an animator, which lasted roughly until I found out what their take home pay was after taxes. Yet somehow, Yellow Submarine managed to pass me by almost completely.
It is at this point that I should also admit that in the cosmic scheme of things, I don’t know shit about the Beatles.
Sure, I’ve heard a bunch of their songs. I know their names (Stu, Pete, Liam, and Noel, right…?) But growing up, in those all important early days of musical habit forming, ours was a Motown household. I had heard a lot of Jermaine Jackson (underrated, yo), but the extent of my Beatles knowledge was that one of them did a duet with Michael Jackson.
If anything, I came to appreciate the Beatles through their second habitat (and my comfort zone), film. A Hard Day’s Night and Help! ran on Public Television way back when Public Television was all Tom Baker awesomeness and Morgan Freeman superpimpin’ on Electric Company. They fed into my burgeoning voracious love of absurdist British humor, and hey… the songs weren’t too bad, either.
And yet… still no Yellow Submarine.
If I had to guess, I would venture that the first time I actually sat myself down and watched the film would be as a rental from the Potomac Video across the street from my high school. There’s a possibility I wasn’t actually IN high school yet, but I’m old and I drink a lot.
These things get blurry.
At any rate, and for whatever reason, I eventually wound up renting the film. I still remember the video cassette, the silver label with the red writing. The day-glo artwork on the box cover that, yes, looked like the work of a child. But… fuck, we should all be so lucky as to have been as gifted as that imaginary child. I suppose I knew what the movie looked like, in the sense that we all knew things before the internet, which is to say I had a vague memory of a commercial or something:
At any rate… I watched the movie.
If you’ve never seen it before (and if that’s the case, I weep for you) Yellow Submarine is the story of the Beatles, who travel (I’m sure you can guess in what kind of a vehicle) to a magical place called Pepperland in order to rescue its people from an invasion by the music hating Blue Meanies. Which, really, is just a pretext for an endless series of in-jokes, exceedingly clever plays on words, fantastic songs, and jaw dropping stylistic experiments.
The legend goes that The Beatles, having been burned on a previous cartoon experience (here, if you must), were disappointed that this movie wasn’t going to look more like a Disney film and wanted nothing to do with it, even refusing to voice their cartoon counterparts. But when they actually saw the finished product, they loved it so much they actually filmed a live action epilogue.
The truth is more prosaic: they were under contract to do three films, and they saw an animated movie as being a way of fulfilling their requirements without doing much work. The only reason they did the cameo at the end was because it contractually mandated, and it still wasn’t enough to get them out of having to make another film (hence, Let It Be).
But as anybody who’s seen Magical Mystery Tour can tell you, it’s not always such a great thing to have the actual Beatles involved anyway. And it is very hard to imagine their presence doing much to improve what is more or less a masterpiece anyway.
Yellow Submarine is a movie intoxicated with its own sense of possibility. There’s so much wit, imagination, and joy in every frame of this film; it’s practically bursting at the seams.
“It’s all in the mind.” “I’m a born lever puller.” “Must be from Kentucky.” “Guy Lombardo?” Frankenstein’s sister Phyllis. “You surprise me, Ringo. Dealing in abstracts.” “Any old Einstein.”
None of this stuff means anything to anybody who hasn’t seen the film, but to those who have, it’s everything. The wildness of the visuals is matched by the gleeful dismantling of the English language. Wordplay reaches high art as almost every piece of dialogue has been crammed with some clever turn or another. Even after all these years and who knows how many viewings, I’m still uncovering new jokes and allusions.
And when I say the film changed my life, I’m not kidding, though it’s probably not the massive psychological spiritual overhaul a phrase like that seems to imply. Simply stated, before Yellow Submarine, I had this idea set in my mind: good animated movies only looked like Disney movies. They only featured a certain type of song, told a certain type of story. And as an aspiring animator, I knew I would never be able to do any of that. I had neither the training nor the patience.
Watching Yellow Submarine taught me that lesson that seems so obvious when it finally hits you, but for whatever reason never occurs to you until an outside force hits you upside the head with a brick-shaped revelation:
Animation is nothing but a bunch of drawings.
Which means that in animation, your options are limitless.
The things it costs Hollywood hundreds upon hundreds of millions to do, can all be accomplished with the flick of a pen.
The world doesn’t have to be what it is, or what others expect it to look like; it can be whatever you imagine it to be.
Which, when you think about it, isn’t a concept that just applies to animation.
And that’s it. That’s the thought I try to hang on to whenever I feel the need to create: don’t let what’s come before dictate what you think you should be doing. You may not be able to do what they do, but you’re the only one who can do what you do. So why do anything else?
Yellow Submarine taught me that.
And there you have it: over 1400 words on some cartoon from 1968 that doesn’t star the biggest band of all time and whose largest cultural imprint appears to be a Best Buy commercial.
But I got to write about it anyway.
This is the boon our beloved editors Ed and David gifted to us.
Of course, Pick Of The Week isn’t really ending so much as its evolving into something else: in its place will be running Cinapse Selects, which will be a very different beast than Pick Of The Week. For instance, it won’t be weekly.
And… uh, other stuff, I’m sure.
But as for Pick of the Week, this is the end of the road. We, The Fine Folks of Cinapse, thank you for reading.