Inventor of X-Rated Animation Ralph Bakshi Makes a Comeback

Legendary Filmmaker To Release 'Last Days of Coney Island'

By Ezra Glinter

Published January 14, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Bakshi later immortalized Brownsville of the 1940s and ‘50s in his 1982 movie “Hey Good Lookin’,” which depicts the trials of high school romance and the rivalry between black and white street gangs. The neighborhood provided not just memories, but also inspiration for Bakshi’s collage-like style. He remembers apartment walls covered with layers of paint that no one ever scraped off, and his grandfather’s tiny wooden synagogue, which he found “very warm and artistic.” “My style came from … the dirt on the floor,” he said in an interview with the Brooklyn Rail. “It came from the paint. It came from the old wood. It came from these things being mixed together. It was not the clean suburb with trees and leaves falling perfectly on a block.”

Ralph Bakshi in Austin, Texas, 2009.
Heather Leah Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons
Ralph Bakshi in Austin, Texas, 2009.

All of those influences showed up in his first film, “Fritz the Cat.” Like other early Bakshi movies such as “Heavy Traffic” (1973) and “Coonskin” (1975), “Fritz” dove into an urban melting pot where the ingredients didn’t mix well. The main character — an anthropomorphized cat created by comix legend Robert Crumb — is an undergrad at NYU and a wannabe beatnik of the worst kind. The movie also portrays trigger-happy cops, crotchety old Jews, and cynical black pool hustlers whom Fritz encounters on a voyeuristic trip uptown. Rather than create a mythologized version of New York in the ‘60s, “Fritz” presents a complex and diverse city that has more than one identity.

Bakshi also used “Fritz” to embark on new experiments in animation. Though he was trained in the rushed style of Terrytoons, the studio where he got his first job, “Fritz” gave him room to innovate. To get the right look for the film he wandered Manhattan with a 35 mm camera, taking pictures of sewer grates and deli windows, garbage bins and terra cotta facades. The photos were later traced and laid over impressionistic background paintings, creating a rough yet naturalistic look that became a hallmark of Bakshi’s films.

“Fritz the Cat” also introduced a second Bakshi trademark — voices taken from candid conversations. In the opening scene a trio of construction workers discuss their daughters’ dating habits while eating lunch atop a girder. The actual conversation took place in Bakshi’s office over a bottle of scotch, but the construction workers were real enough. Later in the film Fritz’s friends are voiced by young men who happened to be hanging out in Washington Square Park; when Fritz wanders into an East Side synagogue to get away from the cops, we hear a trio of old Jews — in reality Bakshi’s father and uncles — discussing their poor eyesight. Such techniques resulted in movies that aren’t just risqué cartoons, but documents of their time and place.

Though Bakshi eventually drifted from urban themes, he also returned to them, repeatedly. “Hey Good Lookin’” recalled his Brownsville youth, and “American Pop” (1981) chronicled four generations of an immigrant family from shtetl to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Now, with “Last Days of Coney Island,” Bakshi is turning again to New York City, this time to its legendary beach spot.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.