Heavy Traffic [Blu-Ray] Ralph Bakshi

Heavy Traffic [Blu-Ray] Ralph Bakshi
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Years before he was known for his animated fantasy epics, including an incredibly truncated The Lord of the Rings adaptation, Ralph Bakshi was known for directing lewd, crude and hypnotically gorgeous animation that explored the darker side of humanity. Fritz the Cat (based on Robert Crumb's underground comic) made him famous, but it was follow-up Heavy Traffic that cemented his reputation as a counterculture heavy, although the X-rating both films received didn't hurt. The movie opens with a live-action shot of Michael Corleone (a stand-in for Bakshi?) playing pinball before morphing into a rough NYC streetscape. Cartoon Michael lives with his parents, an overbearing Jewish mother and Italian gangster father. Michael is an underground cartoonist who trades sketches for drinks with black bartender Carole. After an altercation at the bar, Carole moves in with Michael, raising the hackles of his racist father. Determined to get enough cash together to move to California, the two slowly descend into the city's seedy underbelly. While Heavy Traffic's animation looks rough compared to the digital precision of today's animated fare, there's more soul in a single frame of Heavy Traffic than anything DreamWorks has ever produced (and even some of Pixar's lesser lights). It's amazing that at a time when animation strictly adhered to the stylistic conventions of either Disney or Warner Bros., Bakshi was able to create a film with such originality and singular stylistic vision. The story is a bit thin and dated, but the New York Bakshi presents — a city extremely similar to the one that would push Travis Bickel over the dege in Taxi Driver— is a fascinating glimpse into the past. While it's tempting to chalk-up the rare X-rating to more conservative times, the (animated) nudity, language and subject matter would challenge most censors even today. The only disappoint is while the Blu-Ray looks great, it comes with zero special features. Still, with access to Bakshi's films, particularly his earliest ones, traditionally pretty spotty, it's hard to see any re-release as anything but a win. (Shout! Factory)