From Homer to John Lennon, or what the “psychedelic 60s” can teach us about creativity in animation.
Animated music videos are about as common today as photos of cats on the internet and, tragically often, not that much more original. But there was a time when they were a pinnacle of creative innovation, breaking entirely new ground. Earlier this year, we looked at the work of 5 early animation pioneers who changed the course of animated storytelling, and today we turn to the intersection of film and music with Mod Odyssey, a fascinating featurette on the making of The Beatles’ groundbreaking 1968 animated feature film, Yellow Submarine. More than a decade before Pixar, the film was not only a technical feat of animation execution but also a seminal work in bringing more attention to animation as a serious art form, both for audiences and for creators.
For the first time in screen history, extremely real and enormously famous people were going to be animated into a feature film.”
‘Yellow Submarine’ breaks new ground in the art of animation. Just as Swift and Carroll changed the history of literature, as Chagall and Picasso brought new life to art, The Beatles are revitalizing the art of animation. It’s a truly mod world, where medium and message meld — the new art of the psychedelic 60s.”
For more on animating Lennon, don’t forget the excellent and timeless I Met The Walrus, recorded the year after Yellow Submarine and animated 39 years later.
The hour-long program explores a number of psychology and neuroscience experiments exploring everything from how the color red suppressed the stress-hormone cortisol to elevated confidence to how blue changes our sense of time to make a minute feel 11 seconds shorter to how language shapes the perception of color in different cultures. (Though it should be noted that, while presented as new, the findings are based on the pioneering work of Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, circa 1969.)
Your eye doesn’t simply see color — your brain creates it by drawing on knowledge of what things should look like.”
The earliest colors we learned — blue and yellow — have hard-wired emotional connections. Our associations with red and green we’ve had to learn.”
A vintage signpost for how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
In 1967, CBS aired an episode of the network’s CBS Reports series exploring homosexuality, a topic so taboo and controversial at the time that it took three years in the making, several revisions and a change of two producers to finally air the program. Titled The Homosexuals, the hour-long broadcast was anchored by Mike Wallace, whom you may recall from his provocative conversation with Ayn Rand on morality and love as a business deal, and was the first American network documentary to ever explore the topic of homosexuality on national television. It featured interviews with a number of gay men from San Francisco, Philadelphia, Charlotte and New York, legal experts, cultural critics, priests and psychiatrists, as well as footage of young men interacting in a gay bar and a teenager being arrested during a police sting operation, complete with psychoanalysis that pegged it all on the inevitable domineering mother.
Particularly poignant is this short interview with a young man identified as “Warren Adkins,” who is in fact the prominent gay rights activist Jack Jichols, founder of the Mattachine Society:
The innermost aspects of a person’s personality is his sexual orientation, and I can’t imagine myself giving this up, and I don’t think most other people who are sure of their sexuality, whether they’re homosexuals or heterosexuals, can imagine giving that up either.”
When asked about the “cause” of his homosexuality and whether he dwells on it, Nichols responds with a kind of quiet bravery certainly far ahead of its time and in many ways still more evolved than the opinions of many on the subject even today:
I have thought about it, but it really doesn’t concern me very much. I never would imagine if I had blond hair that I would worry about what genes and what chromosomes caused my blond hair, or if I had brown eyes… My homosexuality to me is very much in the same category. I feel no more guilt about my homosexuality or about my sexual orientation than a person with blond hair or with dark skin or with light skin would feel about what they had.”
As part of the research for the broadcast, CBS conducted a survey that found 90% of Americans saw homosexuality as an illness and the vast majority favored legal punishment even for homosexual acts done in private between two consenting adults. But what’s most fascinating is that the segment portrays gay men — and, mind you, completely neglects gay women as part of the homosexual community — as inherently promiscuous, incapable of sustaining long-term monogamous relationships. And yet, even as we cringe at the general trauma and civil rights failures around the issue in 1967, here we are nearly half a century later, still debating gay marriage and questioning the rights of those men and women who do want to legally enact these loving long-term monogamous relationships. One has to wonder whether a documentary on today’s gay rights opponents would sound just as foreign and antiquated half a century from now.
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