On the weekend I was at Polyester, a local oddball bookshop, looking at the comics and art magazines when I happened across a familiar sight. Well, several familiar sights. All of them on the cover of one book. Holly Wouldifshecould, Fritz the Cat and Mighty Mouse amongst other loved characters adorned the front of the dust jacket of a wonderful tome entitled, Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Being that I work a poor paying job and have had to mostly ban myself from buying treats. Luckily my lovely girlfriend decided to purchase it for me after seeing the child-like longing/desperation on my face. She probably regretted buying it after I began reading it out loud excitedly and describing all the Bakshi movies I’d seen at length on the car ride home. Usually I can filter my obsessive nerdish rantings in social situations, but not on this day. My love of animation had been rapturously rekindled by a single book purchase.
Unfiltered, written by seasoned animation professionals, Jon M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell, tells Ralph Bakshi’s life story through chapters that chronologically outline his films while giving the stories behind each one, going into both the professional aspects of Bakshi’s career as well as chronicling his personal life to some extent. While I find Ralph Bakshi an entirely fascinating filmmaker and was enthralled at the stories contained within Unfiltered, it is the pictures that I find most exciting. This hard-bound book features movie stills, sketches, posters, background paintings, character studies, even a couple of comic strips that Bakshi drew in his twenties. Unfiltered can be opened up at any page and will greet you with beautiful examples of some of the best cartoon artwork ever to have been made.
It is with this book in hand that I am inspired to present to you my five favourite Ralph Bakshi films in my Starter Pack for the week.
HEAVY TRAFFIC (1973)
Mixing live action with animation, Heavy Traffic is a visual feast of violence, mayhem, and beautifully caricatured urban characters. Heavy Traffic follows the exploits of a young cartoonist as he finds romance, violence, questionable morality and inspiration for his artwork in the poverty stricken neighbourhood in which he resides.
Apparently this film was quite controversial when it was released. Like Heavy Traffic, it follows similar race-related themes, focusing on a group of African American youth who get swept up into a world of crime and violence. One of the truly under-appreciated satires.
As well as making some damn fine urban dramas, Bakshi also created some damn fine fantasy pictures. He is well known as the director of the animated Lord of the Rings feature and the Frazetta infused Fire and Ice, but Wizards serves as my favourite example of Bakshi’s fantasy work. Wizards combines a light comedic tone with a heavy message delivered through the use of images from the holocaust. The Eureka release of Wizards is a top-notch disc featuring a booklet some fun extras and an audio commentary from the man, Ralph Bakshi, himself.
HEY GOOD LOOKIN’ (1982)
Probably my favourite Ralph Bakshi film. Another urban drama, this time about cowardice, betrayal and looking cool. Someone really needs to make a good DVD or, better yet, blu-ray of this film. Please. In fact, most of Bakshi’s films could do with decent prints being released.
COOL WORLD (1992)
Loathed by critics, loved by animation enthusiasts such as myself, this is a spectacular mess of a movie. Originally intended as a horror film, the studio screwed with Bakshi’s script and left him with a completely different movie to the one he originally intended to make. Overcoming obstacles such as interference and Kim Bassinger’s performance, an entertaining movie was still made, with thanks owed almost completely to the dazzling animation. I can’t help wondering what this movie could have been though…