In 1968 The Beatles unleashed Yellow Submarine, a psychotropic head-film designed to bring the world together. 50 years later, Stella McCartney calls on its message of love for a new fashion collection
“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” says Stella McCartney, recalling the first time she saw Yellow Submarine as an eight-year-old. “The film was so ahead of its time. The animation, the psychedelic colours, the totally wacky scenes. The Blue Meanies terrified me for a long time.”
Such is the trans-generational appeal of Yellow Submarine it will doubtless still be thrilling – and frightening – children a hundred years from now, in much the same way as the books of Lewis Carroll and the nonsense verse of Edward Lear do today.
A wildly imaginative pop-art fantasia telling the tale of how the oceanic utopia of Pepperland is invaded by the Blue Meanies and eventually saved by The Beatles after a series of underwater adventures, it remains the sine qua non of psychedelic art, fully living up to its subtitle, Nothing Is Real. Curious to think, then, that Yellow Submarine began life as little more than a contractual obligation to paymasters United Artists, to whom The Beatles were bound to provide three films.
Still reeling from the death of manager Brian Epstein in August 1967 and loathe to appear in front of the cameras again following their experience filming Help!, the band recorded four new songs for the project and handed the creative reins over to screenwriter Erich Segal, Canadian animator George Dunning and, most crucially, visionary Czech art director Heinz Edelmann.
Working without a script in cramped offices in Soho Square, Edelmann – assisted by 200 members of London’s tight-knit animation community – set about creating a visual extravaganza, combining illustration, photography, rotoscoping and 3D sequences in a way that was as dazzlingly progressive as the Fab Four’s music. It was a Herculean effort and, with the 11-month deadline looming, art students were bussed in overnight to complete painting and tracing shifts.
The result is a 90-minute work of wonder that operates as a visual acid trip (all the more remarkable considering Edelmann had never tried LSD). Opening in Pepperland, a whimsical nirvana where citizens dressed in Edwardian finery of high collars and ankle-length skirts frolic among statues celebrating cohesion and harmony, the mood quickly darkens as jackbootwearing blobs the Blue Meanies invade, reducing Pepperland to a colourless prison camp.
Summoned from the monochrome reality of post-war Liverpool by Pepperland escapee Old Fred, The Beatles duly come to the rescue, travelling through interdimensional time zones (the Sea of Time, the Sea of Science, the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Holes) in the titular U-boat, a steampunk-style craft worthy of Heath Robinson’s madcap creations.
Set to a backdrop of Eastern mysticism and witty pop-cultural references – supplied by an uncredited Roger McGough – the film’s subversive message was clear: the humanitarian spirit engendered by the Summer of Love would soon be under threat from dark forces massing to destroy it. 50 years on, it feels more relevant than ever.
“My dad held a screening for our friends and family last summer,” says Stella of seeing the 50th-anniversary surround-sound reissue in 2018. “I hadn’t seen it since I was young and it totally blew my mind. It affected me in a way I just wasn’t expecting. The actual animation and the artwork itself are just phenomenal, but what I think is so amazing about it, is that the messaging is somehow so modern and relevant to today. That idea of bringing everyone together through music to make the world a much happier place is exactly what we need right now. I came out of it thinking of all these messages, about bringing the world together, people together, breaking down barriers. Honestly, it gives me goose pimples now just thinking about it.”
To this end, Stella has designed the brilliant All Together Now collection, which, by featuring scenes, motifs and graphics from the film, updates its heartfelt themes of peace and positivity for the 21st century.
“I’ve tried to distance myself from this relationship in my career in a way, because it’s felt very important to do that for so many reasons,” she says. “But I just thought, if anyone has permission to work with this kind of massive heritage and messaging, it’s me, and if there’s ever a time to do a collection like this, with such strong and positive messaging, it’s now.”
Half a century on from first setting sail, Yellow Submarine’s mission to educate and inspire goes on.
GROOMING Sophie Jane Anderson at D+V Management using Skincare – Haeckels, CASTING Emilie Åström MODEL Leigh Kimmins at Wilhelmina PRODUCTION Lock Studios