Friday, April 25, 2008


Just wanted to point you all to the DeviantArt gallery of my sister, Phyllis, who just recently got accepted to the Ontario College of Art and Design, and is a better draftsperson and painter than I could ever hope to be. Her extensive online portfolio contains her portraits, anatomical drawings, sketches, cartoon drawings, and her amazing fashion design work. Congratulations, Phyllie, and good luck!

And speaking of art, the Ralph Bakshi book signing last week at Soho's Animazing Gallery was a tremendous experience. It was great to see the man's paintings up close; they have much of the same energy and vibrancy that his animated films do. When I timidly approached the desk where he was signing copies of his book and told him that Heavy Traffic was my favorite of his works, his eyes lit up and he bellowed "Finally! Someone else who likes that fuckin' picture! I thought I was the only one!", which pretty much made my whole month.

Much of his family was present there, including his daughter and publicist, Victoria, who my friend Steven and I asked about Bakshi's upcoming film, Last Days of Coney Island, a story about dirty cops, prostitutes, and other colorful characters in Brooklyn's deteriorating amusement district. According to her, Ralph had been experimenting with new 2D animation software with the help of some close friends and family, but when he went to seek funding from various studios, they tried to get him to make changes and tone down the story, so he put it on the back burner for a while to return to his painting. At this point they have about five minutes of completed animation, and are looking for funding to make the film on his own terms. Let's hope we get to see this film in the eventual future.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Bakshi in NYC!


Animation legend Ralph Bakshi will be in New York next week, on Thursday, April 18th, to sign copies of the lovely new coffee table book Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. at Soho's Animazing Gallery. If you want to go you'll need to call them up and RSVP.

As a filmmaker, Bakshi is about as polorizingly "love him or hate him" as it gets.... I've only just recently started getting into his stuff in the past few months, but I can say I am firmly in the "love" camp. His work is a rarity in the typically very collaborative field of animation - personal, raw and truthful. His early "street" films - Coonskin, Hey Good Lookin', and my personal favorite of his works, Heavy Traffic, have more in common with pulsatingly individualistic slices of cinematic life like Scorsese's Mean Streets than anything Disney ever put out, and even when he did make cartoons for children (his brilliant fantasy epic Wizards and the hilarious Saturday morning cartoon Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, a collaboration with a pre-Ren and Stimpy John Kricfalusi, they still contained cracking wit and did not look down upon their young audience.

I will certainly be at the event next week, and what's more, it's a great excuse to post some YouTube clips!

The Heavy Traffic trailer.

The WWII sequence from American Pop, which marries footage of soldiers in battle with clips of swing dancers, a brilliantly set to Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing."

The trailer for Fire and Ice, Bakshi's collaboration with cult artist Frank Frazetta - an unabashedly manly tale of warring barbarian clans.

"Mighty's Benefit Plan," one of the funniest episodes of Mighty Mouse: Thew New Adventures, lampooing "Alvin and the Chipmunks." The Dave Seville counterpart (here called Sandy Bottomfeeder) is an overbearing, exploiting, psychologically unsound megalomaniac, whose adopted pop-star sons Elwee and the Tree Weasles live in total fear of him - not unlike the parents of many child stars in the 80's. I recently bought this entire short-lived series from an online bootleg seller (I was too young to remember it ever being on TV in England) and there were many jokes like this that would've gone right over the kiddies' heads. Unfortunately, the show didn't last long after an Evangelical TV watchdog accused the titular rodent of sniffing cocaine (he actually smells a crushed-up flower given to him by his crush).

Monday, April 07, 2008

Give 'em hell, Heston


I was greatly saddened to hear of Charlton Heston's passing - not just because he was a gifted actor whose work I greatly admired, but because he was truly part of a dying breed - he embodied the spirit of two-fisted, no-nonsense manliness that sadly seems to quickly fading away in today's Hollywood. While today's movie screens are populated by wind-swept hair-sporting underwear models like Matthew McConaghey, and goofy "big teenager" types like Will Ferrel and Adam Sandler, Heston, like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and John Wayne, came from a time when Men were Men with a capital M, and the bad guys better get the fuck out of his way. Whether he was leading the Jews to freedom in The Ten Commandments or battling hordes of the undead in The Omega Man, Heston did it all with muscle-bound, squared jawed gusto.

Personally, I'll remember Mr. Heston for three distinct roles: the first, of course, is Taylor in Planet of the Apes. With his rugged physique and hot temper, it's no surprise that his simian captors regarded him as a brainless neanderthal, but he's such a truly rugged guy, that you can't help but cheer when he snarls the now-legendary line "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" - not to mention getting a chill up your spine at the film's finale. The second is Mike Vargas in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, a film I actually prefer over Citizen Kane. Although the film gets a lot of flack for Heston's not entirely convincing portrayal of a Mexican-American detective, the character was originally written as white - it was Welles himself who changed the character's race to Hispanic. Heston was responsible for convincing the studios to allow Welles to take the director's chair in addition to playing the corrupt, racist cop Hank Quinlan, and also the one who managed to hang on to Welles' encyclopedic editing notes, which were used for the recent restoration of the film. Plus, if you ask me - he somehow made his character work.

The third role is as the titular melancholy, aging cowboy in the most underrated 1968 western Will Penny. In this picture, Heston gave one of the finest displays of sad and wounded humanity as a former cattle runner hired as a guard on a wealthy rancher's land, who decides to protect Joan Hackett's character and her young son even though they are squatting there illegally. This is the film and the performance you show to people who dismiss Heston as a ham - of course it also doesn't hurt that the movie features Donald Pleasance as a renegade preacher so utterly diabolical and completely bugshit he makes Robert Mitchum's Harry Powell from Night of the Hunter look like a big kitten.

Heston gave many other great and memorable performances too - the soul-saving, chariot-racing ex-slave of Ben-Hur, the empathetic yet two-fisted hero Detective Thorn of Soylent Green (the third chapter of Heston's unofficial end-of-the-world trilogy, along with Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man) the depressive, cigar-chomping emotional train wreck of Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee, the noble Spanish conquistador in El Cid - hell, the guy was even fun to watch in the mediocre fluff he sometimes appeared in, like The Greatest Show on Earth and Alaska.

It's hard to discuss Heston without discussing the guy's politics - I've always been a proponent of seperating the man from the artist, but in his case, I don't even think that's necessary. Despite his often being labeled as a conservative boogeyman, Heston routinely stood up for causes on both sides of the political fence. During the Civil Rights movement he marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, and even picketed one of his own premieres in Oklahoma upon discovering that the audience would be segregated. He also opposed the Vietnam War, and while I may not necessarily agree with his views on gun legislation and other Republican causes, I respect the fact that Heston stood up for what he believed in - if you ask me, activism on either side of the issue is better than ambivalence. Heston stood up to the arguably right-headed yet often sheeplike liberal majority of Hollywood with the same square-jawed stones with which he stood to Pharaoh Rameses and Dr. Zaius. If anything, Michael Moore's treatment of the man in Bowling for Columbine - in which the documentarian barged into the actor's house, demanding he apologize for the death of a young school shooting victim - completely backfired, making Moore appear the bigger asshole of the two, and a very confused-looking Heston the victim.

With Heston's passing, we've truly lost a legend, and I'm sure he's giving the egghead do-gooders in the next life a hell of a time. Farewell, Mr. Heston, you shall be missed.