Arts & Culture » Movies

Banish the Meanies!

by Sari Staver

Jeremy and the Chief Blue Meanie, from "Yellow Submarine." Photo: Subafilms Ltd.
Jeremy and the Chief Blue Meanie, from "Yellow Submarine." Photo: Subafilms Ltd.  

A new digitally remastered version of the Beatles' animated film "Yellow Submarine" will screen at the Castro Theater for five days, beginning on Fri., Aug. 17. Coinciding with the film's 50th anniversary, the newly restored version will give audiences "the best version of this film they've ever seen," said Richard Abramowitz, chief executive officer of Abramorama, which was hired by the media company Apple Corps, formed by the Beatles in 1968, to distribute the film. A singalong version will play on Saturday, Aug. 18 and Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Based on the Lennon-McCartney song "Yellow Submarine," the film spins a fantastic tale of peace, love and hope. The score includes "Eleanor Rigby," "When I'm 64," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "All You Need Is Love." The animated heroes team up with Young Fred and the Nowhere Man and journey across seven seas to free Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, make peace with the militant Meanies, and restore music, color, and love to the world. According to the Castro Theatre's program notes, the film is a "landmark in animation, with Heinz Edelmann's inspired art direction conjuring up a nonstop parade of wildly different styles and techniques.

"The film was hand-restored in digital 4K, frame by frame, from the paper-doll residents of Pepperland to the tinted photography of the soot-covered roofs and smokestacks of Liverpool, the menagerie of fanciful characters in the Sea of Monsters, the kaleidoscopic color-splashed rotoscoping of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' the vertigo-inducing Op Art of the Sea of Holes, and the triumphant euphony of the 'It's All Too Much' finale."

The Beatles get lost in the Sea of Holes, from Yellow Submarine. Photo: Subafilms Ltd.  

The Castro screenings, including three for moviegoers who would rather not hear the audience sing, are expected to draw large audiences, said Keith Arnold, programmer and general manager of the Castro Theater. Arnold, who has been with the Castro for 11 years, said that "Yellow Submarine" is "rarely available" for theatrical screenings, and was last seen in San Francisco in 2012, just after an earlier restoration.

"When I saw it was available, of course I booked it immediately," said Arnold. "It's a blue moon. Only the fool on the hill wouldn't book this."

Sing-alongs do well at the Castro, he said. Classics such as "Sound of Music," "West Side Story," "Grease" and "Beauty and the Beast" have screened at the Castro "hundreds of times," he said. A sing-along version of "Little Mermaid" opens at the Castro later in August.

After its five-day run in August, Arnold said, it will probably be "another five years" until the film is available for theatrical screenings. "On the big screen, this has been a powerful film that has reached people since it was made 50 years ago."

Abramowitz discussed his enthusiasm for the new version of "Yellow Submarine," which began a tour of hundreds of theaters nationwide last month. "There is no such thing as too much of the Beatles," he said. Although the film has been available on DVD and Blu-ray and iTunes for years, "nothing compares to seeing it communally on the big screen." He's seen the film "many times," and recalls seeing three generations of a family enjoying the film together.

The film is "a natural" for a sing-along version, said Abramowitz. In the original film, the finale was accompanied by subtitles of the lyrics, "giving the audience license to do what they wanted to do: sing along," he said. When he's been at the theater, hundreds of people always broke into song during the finale. "They knew all the lyrics, but seeing the words on the screen allowed them to sing along. Now they won't have to wait until the end."


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