Friday, March 20, 2009


It took me a year to pick up Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi by Jon M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell.  Not from lack of interest, its been on the very short "want" list since its release.  Until now,  we hadn't been fated to meet.

I'm unsure about Bakshi.  Heavy Traffic is one of the great works of feature animation -a personal favorite, Coonskin is good -but not as good the chatter says it is, most of all HE GETS IT DONE.  Many animation directors will let "the man" and their own neuroses prevent their films from crossing the finish line.  Not Bakshi, he gets it done.
On the other hand, I just don't know.  The art direction rubs me wrong, I guess.  But I always hope to have that transcendant moment in his films -like in Paul Fierlinger's Drawn From Memory, or Sita Sings the Blues.  The moment comes close but never arrives.
The book is very nice.  Professional.  Competent.
Swap out the pictures and you could easily have a coffee table John Lassetter or Brad Bird book.
Bakshi's work unquestionably deserves the highest treatment, but I have to admit -the book, its  a little disappointing.   Reverant, polished -two things its subject has never been.

A few spreads like this are amongst the graphic highlights
Stranger still the author tries to take on the tone of Bakshi, throwing around "balls" like it's Spring Training.  One ill-conceived foray into expressive voice incongruously name drops Henry Rollins.  The attempts to take on Bakshi voice are cringeworthy, but point a greater problem.  This is a book of adulation (deservedly so, as Ralph Bakshi is at least the Teddy Roosevelt of American animation's Rushmore), but the artist demands more than adulation -his work deserves critique.
Bakshi's films should get the same type of serious treatment his 1970s cohorts have gotten.  Coppola, Lucas and Scorsese have dozens of volumes dedicated to the study of their work -Bakshi's achievements trump them all yet this volume is the only book dedicated to him.
As complaints that is unfair -it's a good book, worth twice its price, and I don't know how I would have packaged it better.  As criticism, though, I see a missed opportunity.  This could have been the Illusion of Life for the independent animator.
More than anything, this volume makes you crave a "Complete Bakshi" DVD collection.  Something like the Kubrick Collection would be appropriate.  He has a few titles I've never seen (Hey Good Lookin' -just ordered on VHS) and some that are degenerated dubs of dubs (Coonskin, Fritz the Cat).
We never got to meet Natasha Richardson, but we did share screen time with her:
James Ivory was a pleasure to work with.  Even though he wasn't familiar with the animation process, he has a great eye.  The producer, Ismail Merchant, died during production so we never got to meet him either and we never got to enjoy one of his legendary dinners.


Michael Sporn said...

You're so right about Bakshi. It is a love/hate relationship I have with him. However, a fanbook does no one much good; it becomes little more than PR.

However, as you say, there seems to be little outlet for serious adult criticism of such great directors. Where is the serious critique of Richard Williams' career (which seems to have had the same arc as Bakshi) or John Hubley or Paul Fierlinger?

Eric Noble said...

Interesting. I used to have a complete love of bakshi's work. I still do love his work, but it is time for a serious critique of his work. He deserves it. So do Richard Williams, John Hubley, Paul Fierlinger, and many others.

Eric Noble said...

Why do you feel that Bakshi's achievements trumps Scorsese's or Lucas'?

roconnor said...

Bakshi created his films as a single artist.

Lucas, he's an entrepreneur.

Scorscese, he's a film school guy who stands on the shoulders of giants.

Americans, of course, love entrepreneurs (no, we love millionaires) -so Lucas is treated like an artist although his achievement is largely economic. "Star Wars" is a nice little film in and of itself -but it's the Lucas Empire that we love.

Bakshi, he doesn't have an empire. He's an artist -like his work or hate it.

Whereas most 70s filmmakers took their cameras and said, "I'm going to make my version of Flash Gordon [or whatever]", Bakshi said "I'm going to make a film like no one else ever has."