TO hear artists tell it, art these days is almost anything that strikes the eye. Framed empty space, neon bulbs, rooms with booming loudspeakers, a deliberately ill-tuned radio setall qualify. But one kind of art that has been around quite a while has been all but ignoredanimated film. Though now sophisticated in its techniques and clearly unlimited in its subject range, animation as an art form has been largely confined to exercises in television commercials, kiddie cartoons, and a few arty shorts that are of the kind that are only noticed at film festivals.
That was before Yellow Submarine. Ostensibly a movie about the Beatles, Submarine in reality is an 87-minute melange of arty art work and allusory sight gags, which has turned into a smash hit, delighting adolescents and esthetes alike. Currently, it is second only to Funny Girl at the box office.
Yellow Submarine combines every trick and treat of film animation with a dazzle of takeoffs on schools and styles of art. Picassoesque monsters compete with gentle grotesques from Dr. Seussland. Graham Sutherlandish plants burst in and out of bloom.
Plump Edwardians wander with suave decadence out of Aubrey Beardsley's world, and creatures consume them selves with Steinbergian detachment. There are silk screens from Warholville and numbers from Indiana. Psychedelia explodes and art nouveau swirls in the most unexpected places. Corridor doors are open on surrealist nightmares, Freudian symbolisms and early moviesall combined in a swiveting, swirling splurge of phantasmagoria, puns, pastiches and visual non sequiturs.
Lost Allegory. Yellow Submarine has set sail under somewhat false pretenses. For one thing, most of its advertising gives the impression that the Beatles made it, though almost their only contribution consists of excerpts from their records, plus three new and not notable songs. Secondly, the credits state that it is based on John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's song by the same name, but the story line of the film has very little in common with that simplistic little allegory about goofing off on barbiturate capsules ("yellow submarines").
The plot, in fact, is minimal. A pleasant place called Pepperland is invaded by a tribe of amorphous music-hating monsters called the Blue Meanies, who launch a devastating attack with "splotch guns," which drain their victims of color, and a ferocious Flying Glove, with jet propulsion and a sinister intelligence of its own. The Meanies' ranks fight the Apple Bonkers (who drop big green apples on people's heads) and the Snapping Turtle Turks with sharks' mouths for stomachs.
One Pepperlander manages to escape. White-mustachioed Old Fred climbs into the Yellow submarine (which is inexplicably parked on the summit of an Aztec pyramid) and takes off to bring somebodyanybodyto help. He ends up in Liverpool and finds the Beatles. After a voyage through some indeterminate fantasy land of Outer Space or Sea Bottom, inhabited by terrors, demons and malevolent monsters, they make it back to Pepperland and vanquish the Meanies with Beatlemusic and LOVE.