REALLY Yellow Sub
Do you remember where you were when you first saw "Yellow Submarine"? I do. I remember it like it was yesterday. That's because it WAS yesterday. "Yesterday?! Hold on!" I hear you exclaim. "Am I in an Austin Powers-type time warp? Was Martin's column written in 1968?" No - it was written this morning - Friday June 4th 1999. "Well that's bizarre! Martin's supposed to be a Beatles expert. How could he possibly not have seen "Yellow Submarine" till June 1999? Where was his head buried for 31 years?!" Read on Beatle-ful readers! Your excellent and very apposite questions shall all be answered!
The answer is simple. Yesterday (Thursday June 3rd 1999) I saw "Yellow Submarine" for the first time in the sense that it was the first time that I saw and heard it AS THE FILM'S MAKERS HAD INTENDED! That's because I was privileged to be given a sneak preview of what I hope ALL of us will soon be able to do. I saw the newly-restored "Yellow Submarine" in all its glory - in a proper movie theater.
Before I tell you how that came about - and what WE ALL HAVE TO DO to ensure that the film IS seen in theaters - let me get straight to what really matters. Is the new version worth all the fuss?
My answer is unequivocal. YES!!!!!!!!!! It's like seeing a fantastic painting that had been covered in sooty grime - restored to its former glory!
Let me say first of all - that of course I know the basic film inside out. I've seen it a gazillion times.
For the record my very first time was on July 18th 1968 at the 'London Pavilion' in London's Piccadilly Circus. The 'cinema' where all the Beatles' films opened in Britain. I was there the day after the world premiere. I sat through it five times in a row! And I had with me my Phillips audio cassette recorder - quite a large clunky piece of equipment in those days! That was because I wanted to have a memento of the four new songs in the film. At the time the movie opened there was no scheduled release planned for the new tracks.
This was because the Beatles were in the throes of recording the 'White Album' - and didn't want to clutter its path with a release of four 'new' songs. So at that point we Beatle fans didn't know WHEN we would have the new songs for home consumption. It turned out that we had to wait till early 1969 before the soundtrack album was released. Imagine that happening today - in these days of slickly-marketed soundtrack albums released as part of a movie's promotional campaign.... The soundtrack album being released a mere 6 months AFTER the film has LEFT the movie theaters!)
The film also played on British TV several times. And as you may know - the British TV technology (the PAL system with its 625 -line resolution) gives a sharper quality picture than the American NTSC 525-line system.) So I have my good quality home-made video recording tapes off TV - which I've seen lots of times.
So why do I write that I've just seen it for the first time?
Because the renovation is so utterly brilliant that it gives us what we never even saw before. This is NOT a case like the restoration of "Casablanca" or "Lawrence Of Arabia" where a film's former glory is restored. The new technology that has been employed here shows us what the filmmakers ORIGINALLY DID and wanted us to see but which was not possible at the time because of the technical limitations of the era.
At the screening I attended - the projectionist was able to make several instant back and forth switches between a high-quality original 1968 print - and the new print - made from a digitally-cleaned and polished original negative - so that I could see the improvements. The difference is like night and day. The colors on the original - which I had always recalled as being quite sharp and bright - looked positively dull and grimy next to the new version. It's as though the original was covered by a veneer of yellowing plastic. When that is stripped away - you are blown away by the sheer brilliance of the hues that the filmmakers had conceived. You ARE seeing it for the first time. And that's just the picture...
The biggest revelation is the music - and indeed all of the audio.
As was commonplace in those primitive days (of 1968!) the movie's audio was just a squished-together mono mix - which compressed all the sonic range into a narrow tinny, band of sound. (When we got the album - the music was of course presented in all its George Martin glory.) But the film - even on home video - remained a mono experience.
But what this new version of the film has done with the audio is nothing short of phenomenal. The restorers decided that they wanted to present the music not just in stereo (which became commonplace with movies in the 70's) but in the ultimate digital 6-track surround-sound. This is a format that can be best appreciated in movie theaters and on the new DVD video format - especially if you have a home-theatre audio set-up at home. It'll sound excellent on VHS - but not as good as the digital glory of DVD.
With the full permission of the Beatles - the restorers were allowed to do the first-ever remixing of existing Beatles tracks (as distinct from George Martin's various new mixes of previously-unreleased alternative versions of songs - heard on the "Anthology")
They worked in Abbey Road with the multi-track masters (which for 1966/7/8 recordings meant just 4 tracks or 8 tracks!) The plan in remixing was NOT to create different versions of what we have all become familiar with - but to create 6-track stereo versions of those brilliant originals. So we hear the music just as it sounded to the Beatles when they were in Abbey Road recording it!
They were extra careful to ensure that they didn't stray from the balance and integrity of the original mixes. But the breadth of 6 channels allows us to hear so much more of what was on the tracks.
Now... I'm under a vow of silence not to reveal precise details of what I heard and saw just yet! But believe me - this restoration is a masterpiece!
THE SNEAK PEEK!
So how did I get to see this much anticipated film - which has been under lock and key? Did I sneak into a film distributor's private screening disguised as a Beatle and using my famous George Harrison vocal impersonation?! Well - I hadn't thought to try that! Fortunately I didn't need to. Those of you familiar with my background know that - among the many hats I wear - I have been fortunate to have been recognized for my marketing experience and skills (I was trained by the late, great Derek Taylor!) and I was brought in by Capitol to be their Beatles marketing consultant for the release of the "Live At The BBC" and "Anthology" projects. So MGM-UA - which has worldwide distribution rights to the film - wanted to get my opinion on the film - and how I would recommend marketing it. So I saw the film in the studio's exquisite movie theatre in the heart of Santa Monica - a (rolling) stone's throw from the Pacific!
But the story is not over At the time of writing - there is still no consensus within the company about whether to give the film a theatrical release other than just a few promotional screenings prior to its home video release. Now I passionately believe that the film SHOULD have a proper theatrical release. If you would like to see the film the way I was fortunate to - in a movie theatre - then YOU MUST ACT NOW!
S.O.S!!! - SAVE OUR SUBMARINE!!!
As you read these words - the distributors are still weighing up whether or not to release the film in movie theaters. I urge you to immediately write to them - by mail or e-mail - and tell them your views. And encourage every fellow Beatle fan to do the same. Please post this info on news groups - and on websites with Beatles news pages.
Please be polite and respectful in your letter! The distributor's indecision isn't because they don't like the Beatles! They've spent a huge amount of money restoring this film! It's because they are under-informed about the passion of Beatles fans for this film. I've told them! I've tried to convey how much it means to us fans. But nothing would underscore my assurances to them more than actually hearing from Beatles fans!
I don't think we should send a standard form letter. But it might be useful if your letter refutes one or more of the myths which I think have been inhibiting them from making the right decision. These are some of the fallacies out there in the non-Beatle world:
1 The Beatles only appeal to aging baby-boomers (ie people like Martin!) Younger generations (the biggest movie-going demographic) don't really care about the Beatles.
2 If Beatles fans see this film in theaters - they'd never buy it on home video.
3 Beatles fans just buy albums and videos. They're probably stay-at-homes who don't go out to movies or concerts much - and who would never go to a movie theatre to see a 31-year old animated film.
4 The movie is an antique. It's filled with 60's psychedelic images and has a simplistic story about good triumphing over evil. Martin Lewis says that that gives it the combined appeal of an animated "Austin Powers" meets "Star Wars" ! But movie audiences probably don't want to see a psychedelic cartoon. They only want "Lion King" or "Tarzan."
Maybe Daytrippin' readers can help convince MGM-UA that the world wants a "sky of blue and sea of green" and that most of all it wants "our YELLOW SUBMARINE"!!!!!
WHERE TO WRITE
Note to website readers: At this point in the original magazine article I provided the names and addresses of the pertinent executives at MGM-UA who were in charge of the "Yellow Submarine" reissue. And I encouraged fans to write a "friendly, respectful request" to MGM-UA.
That was in the Summer of 1999. History records that the distributors were unmoved by the tremendous outpouring of communications from Beatles fans. The film was "released" in accordance with its original, very limited plan. And the limited reissue became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since it is now sadly too late to effect that mistaken decision - I have deleted the names and addresses of the executives from this website version of the column.
No point crying over a Sour Milk Sea.