A YELLOW SUBMARINE ANOMALY
By Stephen Lewis
One of my most intriguing hobbies is looking for and collecting anomalies and errors in the world around me. As you might imagine there are plenty to be found. The songs and movies of The Beatles are no exceptions. I have been noticing Beatles anomalies for years, and I would like to take this opportunity to expose the most interesting anomaly that I have ever encountered in a Beatles movie. It can be found in The Beatles full-length animated classic, "Yellow Submarine".
"Yellow Submarine" is loaded with inside jokes, and many subtle and not so subtle anomalies. In his new book, "Inside The Yellow Submarine", Dr. Hieronimus reveals many of the films secrets. One of my favorite chapters is the one in which Heinz Edelmann, one of the creative geniuses behind "Yellow Submarine" as well as many other great works, talks about several anomalies. This chapter includes a discussion of the direct assault of Disney via the Mickey Mouse ears worn by almost all the Blue Meanies in the film. Speaking of Disney, they are famous for anomalies in their animated classics. A couple of examples are the phallic symbol on the cover of the original "Little Mermaid" video; the word SEX appearing in the dust when Simba flops down on the mountainside in "The Lion King"; and of course the scene in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", when Jessica Rabbit flashes us while getting out of a car. I have even heard that Betty Boop would occasionally sport a set of erect nipples every now and then. It seems that animation anomalies are as old as animation itself.
It is interesting to note that I have found all kinds of anomalies in the Beatles other movies as well. In "A Hard Day's Night", for example, do you remember the scene where the Beatles are at a press conference and a female reporter asks John Lennon if he has any hobbies? In response to her question, John takes another reporters pad and writes something on it. He shows it to her and she is shocked by what she sees. Although we never get to see the entire scribbled note, if you watch closely you can tell that Lennon writes "TITS" on the pad! How about the "Ticket To Ride" sequence in "HELP"? Remember near the end of the song when the Beatles are all behind the piano with their fingers tapping on the lid? Next time you watch it, count the number of hands on the lid. There will be nine of them. The extra hand taps Ringo on the shoulder and off they go. Also of note is the scene in "The Beatles, The First U.S. Visit" with the fab four in their Miami hotel room. Watch Paul give us the finger as he jokes with Ringo.
Oddly enough, I discovered the most interesting anomaly not by watching "Yellow Submarine", but through the acquisition of an original pencil drawing used in the making of the film. This drawing has become my most prized and perhaps my most valuable collectible. I didn't even know this obscene anomaly was in the film until I saw this drawing. The image appears in the movie for only two consecutive frames. Since the film is presented at 24 frames per second, the image only appears for one twelfth of a second. It is almost unperceivable at normal speed.
Before this acquisition, my favorite "Yellow Submarine" anomaly occurs in the scene where the Beatles are sneaking around Pepperland with what appears to be cardboard cutouts of bonked Pepperland people. After the Blue Meanie with the bulldogs on a leash passes by and day turns to night, the Beatles are found hiding in some bushes with their Pepperland cutouts. You can clearly see that George has a cutout of a man with a wide bottomed jacket on. Then there is a close-up of the other Beatles moving their cutouts around and Ringo gets his nose smashed between a couple of them. Next you see George come in from the left. He is holding his Pepperland cutout by the bottom bulge of the man's jacket - but you can only see a small portion of it. He runs his hand over the bump and then passes in front of the camera from left to right. As he passes, the cutout turns out to be the naked torso of a busty woman that George is carrying by the breasts. And he has just finished massaging one of them on camera!
It doesn't take a lot of frame by frame searching of the "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" sequence to reveal some interesting images. In other scenes, you can see mistakes like the main Meanie's boots switching colors, buttons appearing and disappearing on the Captain, John's pant legs switching colors, disappearing arms on the Pepperland piano players, and quite a bit of variation in the Beatles themselves. As an example, check out John's hair in the scene where Ringo looks down his throat after he speaks and words come out of his mouth. Another error that I recently noticed is in the "When I1m Sixty Four" scene. When the Beatles are just starting to turn old, there is a quick shot of the Captain who was already grown his long beard and is looking quite wrinkly. In the background, you can see George and part of Paul already burdened by huge beards - then a couple of seconds later, we get to watch both George and Paul grow their beards. An interesting journey through time on several dimensions!
The drawing I have is from the "All You Need Is Love" sequence where the Dreadful Flying Glove and John square off in battle between good and evil. I obtained this drawing from Dr. Robert Liepziger who has owned hundreds of original cels and drawings from Yellow Submarine including the entire scene of the glove trying to remove the letter "O" from its index finger. The scene was drawn on double width paper as the glove dashes violently across a wide area of the screen. While going through the drawings to place them in the proper sequence, Bob found and pulled aside a single interesting image.
At one point in the sequence, the glove (which is sometimes a right hand and sometimes a left hand) points almost straight up. At this instant (just after the roses disappear from the screen) the letter "O" goes from being somewhat squared off to completely round, and it transfers from the glove's index finger to the middle finger. My drawing contains the image of a triumphant glove flipping off the viewer and showing deep penetration of the now circular "O".
Although unnoticeable, except perhaps at the subliminal level, while viewing the film, this individual image was hand drawn, checked, inked, painted and photographed on its way into the film. It is therefore unlikely for this image to have been snuck in by a single individual. There is, in fact, a correction right on the drawing. The yellow and red stripes along with the puff of smoke trail usually seen when the glove is in motion has been erased on the original drawing, and is positioned differently in the film.
Someday I would like to find the matching cel to this piece. Even though cels are typically more collectible than drawings, it is the drawing that is the actual artists work. To create a cel, the original drawing is traced onto a see through plastic sheet. The plastic sheet or cel is then painted. This process requires far less skill than that of the animator.
The world around us is full of errors and anomalies. I have seen and heard them in songs, coins, collectible cards, paper money, advertisements, TV shows, food, and all kinds of products. Finding and collecting them can be a very fun and rewarding experience. Whether you're thinking of starting your own collection or not, just keep your eyes and ears open, and I'm certain that you'll begin to notice the anomalies and errors in the world around you!
© (Copy write) Stephen Lewis 2002
A response from designer Heinz Edelmann to the question of whether subliminal obscenities were deliberately placed in "Yellow Submarine" by the film making team.
This is pure nonsense. The one with the cut out lady, that is just an accident. I mentioned to you that when Erich Segal came to London and was shown some of the old Beatle things, he said ,Whoa! I didn't know you could touch a girl's boobs in animation. Which everybody thought was an incredibly sophisticated American thing to say. I don't think this was what was on the screen, but anyway, in one of his earlier scripts, it says one of the Meanies comes up and touches a Pepper girl's boobs. But of course, nobody took that seriously. And it wasn't animated. It was just another token of American sophistication. Nobody acted on it.
Now about the Pepper people, what the animator does in doing such a thing is to trace off the outline of a Pepper person -- in that case these cutouts -- the animators just traced off the outlines of those cutouts. They did not trace the interior design or the definition, but just the rough outline. So the four Pepper people who were being handled by the Beatles in that scene are just four abstract shapes. Then later on the drawing of the character was put into that outline. So the animators were just working with abstract shapes being handled by the Beatles. Nobody knew or cared where the hands went. They were just manipulating abstract shapes and nobody checked what that meant on the cutout person.
This was totally unintentional, and I suppose not even the animator who drew it was aware where the hands of the Beatles went on that cutout person. He was just having the Beatle character manipulate an abstract shape. And later somebody else filled in the curves or shape the animator did not animate. And so nobody noticed. This wasn't a conscious thing; this was just an accident.
And if someone finds other obscenities or dirty words... this was not intentional. I mean, this wasn't part of the concept. And it would not have worked anyway, because nobody noticed up till now. At that time, in live action nobody was interested in these single or two frame inserts. This was not interesting to anybody until there was a book back in the mid 50's, an American book called "The Hidden Persuader". And of course this described the technique of inserting two frames of a soft drink logo into a normal feature film. Then during Intermission (this was back in the golden age when the Axis of Evil only ran from Wall Street to Madison Avenue, and when they still had Intermission in the cinema), the theory was that people would go to the buffet and guzzle all the available Coca Cola. And of course, even to notice this at all it has to be something that you already know. If you insert a logo for "Dr. Witherspoon's Hand-made Cucumber Juice", which you hadn't seen before because I just made it up, it wouldn't register on your subconscious. Your subconscious is not smarter than your unconscious. What you can read consciously in two frames you do not read unconsciously in two frames.
So there was no point in doing that in "Yellow Submarine" because you knew it was not going to be read, so why do it in the first place? It was definitely not a design thing, but one of the animators could have been working too hard, having to make a certain amount of drawings for a scene which is determined in the bar-sheet. At the end of the day the animator might get fed up and instead of drawing the next frame, just write "this is shit" or something. This could happen, but then the trace and paint person who does the trace and paint thing would notice this and blow the whistle on the animator and bring it to the attention of the supervisor. At that point in animation, this could have been done. Or it could have been the trace and paint person herself who was given a box with sixty cels to trace and paint. And on number twenty-nine, on the twenty-ninth cel she wrote "this is shit", and then forgot about it the next day and went on. Normally, the camera man would notice it, but then again, the camera man is not working with complete images. On every scene there are something like eight cels, and the mouth might be on a cel of its own, and the number of cels has to be kept even. So the camera man's attention is on checking the code numbers on the cels and seeing that the number of cels used in one scene on top of each other is always the same. The camera man does not necessarily look at what's on the cel, but just at the codes on the sides of the cel. He has to be very careful about these and he may not notice this. If it's on a couple of cels and he's just looking at the code numbers, then it would go through.
As they got pressed for time, they brought in for the weekends a hundred art students. They rented another room in the same building, but on the second floor and this was a pretty bad scene. There were about a hundred new people up on the second floor, and on the weekend everybody from TVC was taking a break and these kids were boozing and smoking pot and whatever.
This was a pretty bad scene. So anyone of those hundred could have put "this is shit" in and could have gotten away with it.
What we have here is not something exciting that adds to the Beatle myth, but it's a simple case of industrial sabotage, more or less.
--Heinz Edelmann, March 2002
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