Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Shout Factorized: Ralph Bakshi's HEAVY TRAFFIC Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shout Factorized: Ralph Bakshi's HEAVY TRAFFIC Blu-ray

Ralph Bakshi is perhaps best remembered for his debut film - an adaptation of Robert Crumb's underground comic strip FRITZ THE CAT. It was the first animated feature to receive an X rating in the United States and was also the most successful independent animated film of all-time(grossing over $100 million worldwide). While I like FRITZ okay, I found his later films were the ones that stuck with me a bit more. Being a kid who was raised on Looney Tunes and Scooby-Doo, I remember that seeing my first Bakshi film was an odd and fascinating experience. I can't recall now if it was FRITZ THE CAT or HEAVY TRAFFIC, but either way, I was unprepared and initially taken aback. Bakshi's animated worlds are a fever-dream melange of fantasy, sexuality, urban decay and nostalgia. He really seems to favor a certain kind of working-class city-dweller(often New York City dwellers) in many of his stories. Not only was I unused to seeing this type of character in animated form, but I certainly wasn't prepared for how sexual they were with each other. And swearing. Lots of swearing. Frank language in general. This whole aesthetic clashed with my prior held ideas of what cartoons are. I had always seen them as being something for kids for the most part. All the things Bakshi does made his films very visceral to me. They made an impression and I was left wanting to seek out as much of his other work as I could find. At that time(when VHS tapes were the norm and dinosaurs roamed the earth), a lot of his films were often tricky to see. Warner Home video had released some of them in the giant clamshell cases (which I've become quite wistful about), but they were none too easy to find. Thankfully, most of his filmography is available on dvd now(and a handful of them even on Blu-ray).

Bakshi is rather well-known for mixing different styles of animation with live-action backgrounds, but in HEAVY TRAFFIC he adds different kinds of experimental techniques into the mix as well(live action sequences, negative photography and others tricks). He even features a bit of the MGM film RED DUST(a favorite if mine) in there as well*.
Though some might possibly see him as a provocateur of sorts(his films are filled with inflammatory racial, sexual and misogynistic overtones), I've come to appreciate a certain stream-of-consciousness poetry he creates with his movies. Bakshi's main character in HEAVY TRAFFIC, Michael Corleone, is an underground cartoonist with a boundless, perverse imagination so a story filtered through his perspective is borderline psychedelic and surreal. One could certainly see Bakshi's films as a particularly big draw to the drug culture of there era in which they emerged, but they are so much more than stoner movies. Like I said, I see Bakshi as a sort of working-class, stream of consciousness visual poet. His films are quite singular of vision and unique to be sure. He almost seems cut from the same cloth as Scorsese in many ways. Like if Scorsese had gone into making hallucinatory near-pornographic cartoons instead of MEAN STREETS. That's being reductive though as Bakshi's films are filled with a certain kind of lyricism and they really can be quite impressionistic, poignant and thought provoking. I think I also like how he seems to choose to inhabit them with characters that are often on the fringes of society. Such outcasts have an appeal to me I cannot fully wrap my head around, but I guess it says something of how I feel about myself.
In addition to being a visual mesmerizing piece of cinema, HEAVY TRAFFIC also boasts an excellent soundtrack featuring a version of "Scarborough Fair"(which is wonderfully woven throughout the film) by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, "Take Five" by Dave Brubek and "Maybellene" By Chuck Berry among others. Bakshi uses source music to great effect in films like this, HEY GOOD LOOKIN' and AMERICAN POP. If you've not seen either of those films, I certainly recommend tracking them down(& WIZARDS too).

* Michael Corleone can be seen watching a scene from RED DUST in a movie theater at one point in HEAVY TRAFFIC. As a personal aside, this makes two films that I like a lot(HEAVY TRAFFIC and NIGHT OF THE COMET)that have a connection to RED DUST, which is another film I love. 
(NIGHT OF THE COMET prominently features a poster for RED DUST in one scene.)

The HEAVY TRAFFIC Blu-ray can be purchased via Shout! Factory's Website: HERE

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