There is no doubt in my mind that the most influential musical group of the last century has been The Beatles. Not only did their music change with the times, it changed the culture as well. To this day, some of the most easily recognizable songs are those songs recorded by the Beatles in the ten years that span the 1960’s. Even though their influence on music is undeniable, they have also been a large influence on film as well. Elvis may have started the “music movie”, but the Beatles perfected it. With films like A Hard Day’s Night, and Help!, the Beatles made their faces as recognizable on the big screen as they had done on television and radio. And yet, even films that didn’t star the Beatles have taken their collected works and managed to create meaningful stories as well. This week’s two films examine the effects of the Beatles on film.
Across the Universe
Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours
Within the last ten years, mash-up musicals have become very popular. This all began back in 2001 with Moulin Rouge! and the unique combination of well-known songs into dueling musical numbers. Since then, the songs may still come from the same theme, like 80’s songs in Rock of Ages, but occasionally the film will feature the songs of a particular musical artist. Just like how ABBA songs were pulled together for the musical Mamma Mia!, the songs of the Beatles were collected for Across the Universe. The real key with these films is to work with the source material (the songs) in order to tie lyrics together to form a cohesive narrative and plot. Because the songs don’t have to be played in chronological order, there is a lot of creative freedom to produce an interesting backstory while also remaining true to the songs’ intent.
Due to the Beatles’ influence being mainly prevalent in the 1960’s, Across the Universe takes these songs and uses the decade as the backdrop for a story about love. As such, there are tie-ins to many 60’s cultural events, the main one being the war in Vietnam. Lucy Carrigan is worrying about her boyfriend, who is going to fight in the war soon. Her brother, Max introduces her to Jude, an immigrant from Liverpool who is searching for his father in America. After Lucy’s boyfriend dies in Vietnam, she visits Max and Jude in New York, where she then falls in love with Jude. Unfortunately, now Max is drafted to go to war, which causes Lucy to become an anti-war advocate. Jude thinks Lucy is falling for someone else and confronts her about it before being shipped back to England for being an illegal immigrant. Eventually, everyone meets back up in New York where Jude confesses his love for Lucy.
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours
If the 60’s are known for anything, it’s that they were psychedelic. Nothing is more psychedelic than a yellow submarine. Of the five Beatles films, Yellow Submarine was the only one which was almost completely animated. As such, the film could really explore a lot of the strange themes which occasionally pepper (or Sgt. Pepper, har har) Beatles’ lyrics. Just like the films shot before it, Yellow Submarine features all four of the Beatles as themselves, which would liken this animated film to similar creations from Hanna-Barbera cartoons of a set of band-mates going on adventures (“Josie and the Pussycats”, anyone?) even if the cartoons came out after the Yellow Submarine. In fact, perhaps the Beatles influenced these cartoons as well? At any rate, of the Beatles’ films, Yellow Submarine is perhaps their best known work.
While wandering around Liverpool, Ringo Starr is approached by a sailor from Pepperland who has arrived in our world through the aid of a Yellow Submarine. The sailor needs his help in order to defeat the Blue Meanies, an invading force to Pepperland that has sealed away the protectors of the land: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After gathering John, George, and Paul, the group sets out for Pepperland in the submarine. Travelling through many different seas filled with unique properties like Time, Science, Monsters, Nothing, and Holes, the group eventually arrives in Pepperland, now a desolate wasteland. Now that they’re in Pepperland, they face off against the Blue Meanies, who hate music and are weak against the Beatles’ inherent musical skills. With Sgt. Pepper’s band now rescued, and balance restored, the Beatles return home.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Beatles blockbusters