Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Holidays :: The 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon :: The Holly and the Bakshi Will Make Your Mind Done Blown.

With the Holiday Season once more upon us, Boils and Ghouls, I must ask of you to once more rally to my war-cry as we barrel into the breach to do battle anew with a noxious spell of Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues with yet another all-night movie marathon to keep the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future at bay for yet another year.

Now, my dearest B-Movie Brethren, there was a bit of change in the usual menu this year as I skipped the traditional turkey sub sammich and went with a pizza instead, which netted me a free brick of puppy-chow. (Thus, by the middle of this bonkers binge, I was so buzzing on the sweet crunch of yum and covered in powdered sugar I looked like I had invited you all to say hello to my little friend but passed out face-first in the mountain of blow instead.)

Anyhoo, after flailing consideration, this year’s theme kinda came out of nowhere but I quickly latched onto it as it rocketed by and then slapped and dashed a tentative lineup of films together; half of which -- turns out, I had never seen before, while the rest had nearly seen two decades since last viewed on VHS tapes. And so, I decided to spend the Eve of Christmas Eve in the wild and frenzied animated world of one Ralph Bakshi. I don't know, it just felt oddly appropriate this terrible and awful year.

Editor's Note: I should probably pause and also point out this marathon was officially delayed by about two hours due to the timely arrival of Arrow Video's new Bluray screener for Dario Argento's Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), which I watched and anxiously poked around all the extras before jumping feet first into the Bakshi rabbit-hole. So expect a write-up on that some time after the first of the year, and also expect this delay to have a detrimental effect on the tail-end of this proposed line-up -- he typed ominously. Now back to the 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon already in progress... 

To kick things off, I hadn’t seen this take on The Fellowship of the Ring embarking on a journey to destroy the One Ring to end Sauron's reign over Middle-earth since well before Peter Jackson's version. And while I still kinda dig Bakshi’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings (1978) on a visual basis (-- I actually love the rotoscoping process used here), the film is horribly hamstrung by abruptly ending in the middle of the tale due to time and budget woes (-- it inexplicably ends right after the Battle of Helm's Deep). Bakshi claimed this was always intended to be just part one for a sequel that never materialized; and how he wanted “real illustration” as opposed to “cartoons” for his take on Tolkien’s epic. And on that I think he succeeded -- except for a terrible, fuss-budget take on Samwise Gamgee. Thus, while I think the film was ambitious and interesting as an animated endeavor it’s still kinda flawed and ultimately a failure as an adaptation.

Next, I thought I had seen Fritz the Cat (1972) before but turns out I'd only seen the sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), which Bakshi had nothing to do with. And for the first fifteen minutes, this film was exactly what I thought it would be: an X-rated anthropomorphic furry take on sex and drugs. But then the film takes a startling left turn into a scathing social commentary and vicious satire on the failures of counter-culture ideals and the fizzling hippie movement. Apparently, noted comic artist Robert Crumb, who created the character as a wise-ass hipster, hated the film adaptation. I found it offensive, too, but in all the right ways as it takes everything from drugs, to free-love, to Black is Beautiful, and Kerouac to the woodshed with a “I expected better from the lot of you” switch. Color me pleasantly surprised on this one.

And then, well … OK. I see what Bakshi and William Fraker were trying to do with Coonskin (1975) but, great googily-moogily. I mean: there's a moral grey area this film definitely plumbs the depths of, where it skirts around the notion of fighting stereotypes with even worse stereotypes as it stares into the abyss in this phantasmagorical mash-up of live-action and animated retelling of Uncle Remus' Br'er Rabbit as interpreted by Larry Cohen, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, but it has definitely gone off the good-intentions rails long before the climax as three slick, hick hucksters and hustlers take back Harlem from the Mafia and a corrupt police department. Visually, it is stunning. Everywhere else, it's kind of reprehensible. Such is art.

Moving on ... Grounded by an assist from Frank Frazetta and a couple of old comic pros on the script, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (-- who wrote nearly every issue of Conan the Barbarian for Marvel), Bakshi seems to have really found the temperature with Fire and Ice (1983); a wonderful sword and sorcery and butt-floss tale of good vs. evil. Thus, essentially an old ‘78 van mural come to life, we have a young hero taking up the fight against a dastardly warlock to rescue a kidnapped princess with the aid of a reasonable facsimile of Frazetta’s Death Dealer. And together, they fight to stop the bad guys once and for all. Excellent world building, character designs, and some nifty interpretations and artistic representations of spell-casting and homicidal mesmerism had me hooked when I first viewed this nearly three decades ago and it hasn’t really lost anything in the interim.

As for American Pop (1981), I loved this movie. Loved it. And if Bakshi has a masterpiece, this is it. A sprawling, generational tale of music and family as each generation almost makes it in the music scene of their era only to fall to some tragedy or the fickle hand of fate, only to regroup and try again with each new generation, always gaining more momentum, visually and sonically, until finally making it in the arena rock age. A fascinating family history lesson on the surface, all the while showcasing the evolution of music of the 20th century: ragtime, jazz, big band swing, rock 'n' roll, beat, punk, prog-rock and all points in between. And on such a high I was after this first time viewing of American Pop, I nearly called it a night since it was needling toward 5 in the am.

But the film also kinda gave me a second wind; and so, I decided to keep on going with another Bakshi film I had never seen, Heavy Traffic (1973). Now. A lot of Bakshi's films have there "And then the drugs kicked in" moments. This one is basically a feature length version of that notion. However, I fear I kinda faded in and out of this one as that second wind quickly fizzled; thus and so, I should probably take another run at it before passing final judgement. As of right now, grotesque caricatures of terrible people doing grotesque and terrible things to each other trapped inside a pinball machine-induced metaphor of the big naked city -- stress on the naked. And like always when dealing with Bakshi, artistically it is something to behold, while everything else is a bit of an overwhelming slog. So as of right now, not really sold on Heavy Traffic, but am willing to give it a second chance. Some day.

And there ya go. Originally, I had hoped to squeeze in a viewing of Wizards (1977), too, but that would've meant starting it at 7am and I would've never, ever made it through without falling asleep. (I’d say blame the arrival of Cat O' Nine Tails but I have no regrets on the decision on the delay to watch that one first.) And since I had really fond memories of Wizards, I decided to officially pull the plug on the 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon and give that one a spin at some later and more coherent date.

And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Kwanza, Festivus, Life Day, and a Joyous New Year, one and all! Or, Bah! Humbug, where applicable. And see all ya’ll next year for the 13th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon. Until then, Boils and Ghouls, stay cool! And now, to bed! Right after I shower off all that powdered sugar...


Unknown said...

Bakshi is at best an acquired taste. My first exposure (pun attended) was Fritz The Cat which didn't titilate but rather bored me, I spent close to the next decade staying away from his works, til a friend drug me to American Pop, and let me tell you it is really really good. This really should be sought out. Hope you got over your sugar high, personally I only missed today's jumble in the paper.

W.B. Kelso said...

For you, my dear friend, I made sure we got the extra jumble in the next day's paper. You're welcome. Bakshi has a problem with sensory overload and could use a few lessons in subtlety. Still, I kinda dig what he was trying to do.

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