During “Funkology,” a conversation with Dr. Scott Brown at the IU Cinema, funk legend Bootsy Collins said he wanted to see less generation gap and more “generation flow.” Collins was eager to see more mutually beneficial conversations between people of different ages, as opposed to screaming matches about who is more ungrateful or more responsible for destroying the economy.
One of the most enduring ways that people from different generations can bond, aside from complaining about people younger than both of them, is through music. Sometimes, this bonding takes place through musicals that offer something for both children and their parents.
A great example of this is Yellow Submarine, the psychedelic animated Beatles film that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It features great puns and incredible animation, such as the sequence where the Beatles grow bushy white beards, that both kids and adults can enjoy. At the same time, Yellow Submarine inventively uses the music of The Beatles in ways that are fun for people who have never even heard a Beatles song — “Hey Bulldog” when the Beatles fight some dogs — and longtime fans, like when the instrumental bridge from “A Day In The Life” plays during a transition. The result is a playful experience that continues to give The Beatles new fans every year.
Few rock musicians have this type of cinematic pipeline to new generations. One of them is David Bowie. In his 2016 instant classic On Bowie, journalist Rob Sheffield noted that the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth is “[Bowie’s] Yellow Submarine—the gateway drug that keeps introducing him to new generations of young fans.” The film is ostensibly the story of Sarah, a fantasy-loving teenager who is thrust into a magical world to save her infant brother. But Bowie’s performance as antagonist Jareth the Goblin King is so magnetic that he steals all of his scenes.
Indeed, Bowie owns the film from its first seconds as he sings the song “Underground.” It is one of five songs that Bowie wrote for Labyrinth. These songs contain some good introductions to Bowie’s range as an artist — the exuberant performer in “Magic Dance,” the smooth crooner in “As the World Falls Down.” We even get a taste of his ability to write for other musicians (examples include Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople) with the song “Chilly Down,” sung by some magical creatures called Fireys.
There will always be conflict between people of different ages. But Yellow Submarine and Labyrinth serve as opportunities to construct ceasefires between generations. They allow older people to share their favorite music from when they were younger with their children. These movies also give kids the chance to bond with older people over good movies and great music. They might even inspire them to make some things of their own. These films can lead to just the kind of “generation flow” that Collins was articulating.
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Yellow Submarine will be shown in a new 4K restoration at the IU Cinema on August 16 and 18 as part of the International Arthouse series and the CINEkids International Children’s Film Series.
Jesse Pasternack is a graduate of Indiana University. During his time at IU, Jesse was the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He also wrote about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse has been a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and is a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. An aspiring professional writer-director, his own film work has appeared at Campus Movie Fest.