Thursday, 22 September 2011

Ralph Bakshi

In 1975 Ralph Bakshi released Coonskin, a satirical, urban retelling of the Uncle Remus folktales. It uses the characatures and stereotypes of old cartoons to comment on race and the urban experience. In his book "That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude", Darius James wrote "Bakshi pukes the iconographic bile of a racist culture back in its stupid, bloated face, wipes his chin and smiles Dirty Harry style. [...] He subverts the context of Hollywood's entire catalogue of racist black iconography through a series of swift cross-edits of original and appropriated footage." The film was misinterpreted as racist by the Congress of Racial Equality, who protested the film's release, despite never actually watching it.

The film is kind-of an incoherent mess, but the animation is incredible. It's like a grotesque version of a Bob Clampett cartoon from the 1940s. It reminded me a lot of Clampett's "Tin Pan Alley Cats" (itself somewhat unfairly maligned as racist).

After watching "Coonskin", I tracked down Bakshi's first two films - 1972's Fritz the Cat and 1973's Heavy Traffic. Both are X-rated black comedies set in a hellish vision of New York. Neither are entirely successful but I love their style. They feature animation which is light years ahead of any other 70s animation, except maybe Disney's animated features. Bakshi's first three films are like a cross between the great Warner Brother's cartoons of the 1940s and the films of Martin Scorsese.

I particularly like the muddy ink and watercolour backgrounds.

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