Archive for Ralph Bakshi

The Monday Intertitle: Tin Pan Alley Meets Termite Terrace

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2013 by dcairns


I had kind of assumed for years that Ralph Bakshi was strictly an anti-talent. I saw his LORD OF THE RINGS when it came out, and though I was a kid then and maybe didn’t appraise it with the devastating acuity I could obviously bring to bear on it nowadays, I felt even then that his rotoscoping (that technique whereby animators trace the movements of live action originals) didn’t work — rather than using it to reproduce tricky moves and dimensional stuff like horses which are a swine to draw in motion, he was using it for everything, so that you lost the expressiveness of actors and never gained the (different) expressiveness of cartoons. Also, I thought it was a con to charge the audience full price for half a movie. If you’d told me Peter Jackson would become a megastar director charging full price for a third of a movie, I wouldn’t have credited it.

And then I saw COOL WORLD, which seemed like a really dreadful thing. There are only a few movies that really feel like they were made by people on drugs — Frank Zappa’s 200 MOTELS is one — but they are uniquely awful.


But AMERICAN POP (1981) is actually pretty enjoyable. An ambitious narrative, charting the evolution of popular music in America via a generational tale. Excellent voice work (Vincent Schiavelli and Lisa Jane Persky were the only names I recognised in the cast). Stylish backgrounds. Bakshi’s tendency to mix stock footage in with the animation worked better here, due to the historical backdrop, than it did in, say, WIZARDS (which I’d forgotten about until this second. Yeah, that one’s horrible too). The multi-media mix is still distressingly random — even the titles, a scrapbook of mostly beautiful drawings, is poorly edited, with long pauses between some titles, others that bleed across from one shot to another — a messy job. And Bakshi has really patchy taste. The opening is a pogrom in Russia presented with intertitles and a Jewish liturgical soundtrack and it’s pretty epic, until a rabbi butchered by cossacks expires with a grunted “Oy!” I mean, OK, this is a cartoon, but please decide on your tone. And don’t pick THAT tone.


As with other Bakshi films, largesse is alternated with economy, which means the selections from the Great American Songbook are generous and the animation sometimes limited, but Bakshi at least compensates for still crowd scenes by lavishing detail on every figure. The colour schemes are both rich and nuanced, which is unusual to say the least in animated features, and the vignette-based storyline (less narrative than pageant) keeps the images refreshing themselves at regular intervals.

The rotoscoping (the mo-cap of its day) is still a problem, so that what were no doubt fine live action perfs are sicklied o’er with the pale cast of poster paint. Any time the figures try to act with their faces, it’s a disaster, as the poor animators are still trying to trace actors’ movements instead of doing some actual cartooning. And I swear I recognise some of these shots from other movies. Isn’t this THE CONFORMIST? Bakshi is potentially leaving himself open to lawsuits here.


But as an unusual, pacey musical history in drawn form, it’s kind of striking, like watching a roll of paint-smeared player piano music unspool all over a scrapbook of Old New York. And it’s kind of incredible to think of the movie even existing — like somebody signed off on the concept before pausing to reflect that a chronological structure means you’re going to have various versions of Sweet Georgia Brown for an hour before there’s anything the kids recognise…

In fact, the film gets worse as it goes on, though Ronni Kern’s screenplay throws up a few neat scenes, battling and embracing every cliché about the music biz as it goes, occasionally capturing the electrified snapshot quality of a Warners pre-code, condensing and energizing a whole social scene into a miniature blackout sketch.



Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by dcairns



In honour of this serial, it’s tentacle week this week at Limerwrecks: eight limbs, but numerous lims! Check it.

Last we saw, Carter Holmes and Miss Stanhope were about to be smithereened by high explosives on the sinisterly-named Seal Island. We’re told that the cave has been charged with enough explosives to blow up the whole island, which seems odd as the evil rug merchant responsible is on the island at the time.

Of course, Duke Worne’s budget doesn’t run to blowing up whole land masses, so we’re offered one of the least satisfying pay-offs to any cliffhanger — a passing Tunisian snips the wire and the bomb doesn’t detonate.

As a kid watching serials I always had a healthy respect for cliffhangers that ended with gigantic cheats — the kind where the catastrophe presented at the end of Chapter Eleven would be reprised at the start of Chapter Twelve, but re-edited. Lantern-jawed Trunk Hugelet is wrestling with the controls of the runaway train, but it crashes off a cliff and bursts into flames — only when the story is continued, he throws himself clear, rolls in the dust, hails a passing jalopy, drives to the nearest town, hops on a barque and sails to the South China Seas, passes through customs and checks into a comfortable hotel. And THEN the train crashes off the cliff and bursts into flames. I knew I was witnessing the manipulative power of editing.

Anyhow, the serial team attempt to make up for their lame non-explosive dynamite by quickly arranging an exciting motorboat chase, of a standard that wouldn’t disgrace an early James Bond film. In fact, since there’s no rear projection in this one, it’s actually better than a Sean Connery. The upshot of it is that Ruth Stanhope is abducted and our criminologist hero has to be fished from the drink by the Tunisian.


Believing our hero dead, the rug merchant returns to his base in 33 Folsom Street, and Carter raids it with the police. There’s a massed punch up between cult members and cops, and the masked Monsieur X carries Ruth off through the secret exit.

Weird moment — apart from the staring eyes that keep appearing everywhere, we get another glimpse of supernatural influence. As Monsieur X hurries through subterranean passageways, a translucent vision of the dead Professor Stanhope walks past, or possibly through him. He doesn’t notice, and Ruth is unconscious, so there’s nobody to confirm to us in the audience the nonsensical and unexplainable thing we just saw really happened. I’m reminded of the gangs of rampaging non sequitur characters who stream through Ralph Bakshi’s COOL WORLD, superimposed footage obviously intended for deleted scenes, who make that film the druggy, confusing and often irksome experience it is.


Then Carter gets a mysterious phone call from the dead professor. Then Ruth turns up, unharmed, at home. And then another cliffhanger!


vlcsnap-2013-04-23-21h01m27s238A bullet-ridden end title?

Brained on the Range

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by dcairns


Old movies I have seen projected in 3D:


HOUSE OF WAX – Andre De Toth

THE MAZE – William Cameron Menzies


Another 3D western (on a double bill with the above). I think it was THE NEBRASKAN.

That double feature was oddly tiresome apart from the 3D novelty. And one odd moment. DeToth’s western features a stock-footage stage-coach chase, in which the original material had been filmed “flat.” Rather than let the movie revert to 2D for the duration, a bunch of boulders and cacti had been shot in 3D and then matted on top of the flat footage. When the camera panned, a boulder would glide through frame. When the camera trucked alongside the speeding coach, 3D sagebrush and cacti whooshed in between.

Since this was all done in the years before either motion control camera or computer compositing, the effects were necessarily approximate, so that the speed of the boulders and vegetation did not always match the rate of camera movement, giving the whole thing a surreal effect above and beyond that of the usual 3D dislocation.

And then in THE NEBRASKAN (if that’s what it was), another stock footage chase appeared (again, the characters suddenly find themselves in a totally different landscape for the chase) and again the filmmakers attempted to turn 2D to 3D with superimposed foreground action — the same foreground action photographed for the De Toth film). But these shots did not match any of the new footage in the new film, so we had boulders panning majestically through the foreground of static shots, cacti scudding past during slow pans, and if my memory does not deceive me, peculiar magical cacti and boulders that would move across the screen like ocean liners across several cuts, somehow maintaining their physical integrity as the universe jumped about around them.

(Ralph Bakshsi’s part-animated COOL WORLD is similarly tainted with strange moments when bits of left-over animation run randomly across the screen, out-of-scale characters who disappear behind invisible obstructions, a truly strange bit of stoned amateurishness. Who is responsible?)

Nebraskan web classic poster

While THE NEBRASKAN, following hard on the heels of a somewhat stolid Randolph Scott oater (whose neglect in favour of De Toth’s more lurid and dynamic HOUSE OF WAX was entirely understandable), was almost unbearably dull to sit through (the usual Film Forum snorers and chatterers almost a welcome distraction), I would be almost tempted to revisit it for the sake of that psychotronic dream chase.


HONDO: never seen it, but it would be worth it just to shelter in the shade of the Duke’s mighty brim.