Commentator: line producer John Coates

You sometimes wonder who they’re going to get as a commentator on some discs — as will be seen eventually, you half figure they just called up whoever was around and hoped they could come in. The connection isn’t quite so frayed when it comes to this film necessarily, but it is a touch random, in that Coates isn’t necessarily the first figure which would come to find when thinking about the film. It’s actually a fairly astute one in retrospect, though, as he’s the type of guy who never gets the attention but was everywhere anyway. As he describes it, he was the person who put the team of animators, designers and artists together as well as overseeing their work — it accurately describes what a line producer does, as well as being an equivalent of a casting director — and one would figure that he would have stories to tell.

And he does, though admittedly it’s a touch dislocated and definitely rambling — this isn’t a fannish celebration of the Beatles, which definitely was a good idea, but a discussion of a side project of another enterprise that happened to take on its own life. Coates himself sounds rumpled, perhaps a touch of smoker’s rasp, reflective, an English feller of a certain age who clearly isn’t experienced with the medium of commentaries and always sounds a touch surprised he’s there — he doesn’t openly question what he’s doing or the like, but he often falls silent, with the pauses clearly being the deleted prompts from the questioner sitting with him. And there are plenty of pauses for general thought during his discussions as well, which is often completely at odds with whatever’s happening on the screen — this is a commentary with many moments of no connection to what’s on screen, no frame by frame breakdown or the like. Certainly there are opposite moments, to be sure — noting the identity of people photographed for the “Eleanor Rigby” sequence, how perspective problems had to be tackled during “Nowhere Man,” spotting glitches and wiggles here and there (along with Coates saying how said problems wouldn’t be a worry these days). In ways, it could be a spoken word piece about the film and its history, one that doesn’t follow a linear or chronological path, with visual stimuli along the way, assuming one watches the screen, a piece with its own value in terms of reference and background, stories of production schedules and chance meetings and evolving things on the fly. Fun trivia bits? Sure — the guy who played George in the film was a bartender overheard by the director, Buckingham Palace ordered a new print in the mid-nineties, how quietly pleased if surprised Coates was in later years to realize that others had claimed Yellow Submarine as an influence to not just imitate Disney, a number of other moments, getting to hear Sgt. Pepper’s on an Abbey Road studio hookup a month before it came out.

Though my lasting memory has to be the final few minutes — Coates just doesn’t have much more to say off the top of his head, but the disc must be filled out, so you hear pauses for unheard questions from presumably worried interviewers with an eye on the clock and then Coates — politely, to be sure — essentially repeating himself time and again about what an enjoyable experience it was and so forth, on top of having said similar things throughout the commentary earlier. You just figure the guy wanted his tea by the end but was too restrained to say so.