Friday, April 4, 2014

"Heavy Traffic" (1973) d/ Ralph Bakshi

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April jumps off the drawing table here at the Wop with another Bakshi review, in Heavy Traffic, his X-rated follow up to the popular and successful Fritz the Cat a year earlier. Gone are the trippy, anthropomorphic animals that audiences had grown accustomed to, and in their stead, real human characters facing the tribulations of life on the streets of the big city. Of course, tackling such a risky, personal project meant legendary clashes with the producer; leading to Bakshi actually being locked out of the studio along the way, as a disgruntled Steve Krantz searched for replacement directors, until Samuel Z. Arkoff threatened to pull all funding for the film unless Bakshi was re-hired. In the end, I'm sure the inner turbulence got laughed off by all over the bubbliest of champers, as Traffic's ambition and gritty realism were rewarded by both, the box office and critics, alike. While Tarantino gives PDA's to Hey Goodlookin' (1982), and Ralph often cites Coonskin (1974) as his own favorite, ol' Wop is here to tell you that tonight's review tops his list of Bakshi's cinema work to date, though nobody's ever asked me that question either. What are you afraid of? I only bite occasionally...

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"Michael! Twiggy's on the phone, she says you ought to be a good boy and return her hairstyle to her, ASAP."
Life as an underground comic artist in the big city is like being a pinball, as Michael (Joseph Kauffman) can attest to, as the twenty-four year old unemployed virgin son of a doting, nipple-slipping, Jewish mother (Terri Haven) and a shamed Italian father (Frank DeKova) with mob ties. Michael is constant mediator to their violent and abusive domestic quarrels when he isn't trading cartoons of a legless bouncer named Shorty for drinks from his favorite bartender, a together young black chick named Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson). After a transvestite prostitute named Snowflake takes some gay knocks for hoodwinking a burly drunk on Carole's shift, she finds herself jobless and on the receiving end of unwanted charity from the enamored cripple, forcing her to cozy up to Michael in a hurry. This sudden pairing draws the scorn of a rejected Shorty and more racial venom from dad, Angie, who's generously enlisted the skills of a girthy Sicilian prostitute named Rosa to deflower his son, in between pistol-whipping his wife's face in, leading the impromptu young couple to vacate the premises for greener pastures...

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I faced similar obstacles finding my way back to Cowboy X's van in a Phish show parking lot back in the nineties.
In an attempt to raise funds for a California move, Michael pitches his unusual comic strip to a gravely ill executive, providing only disappointment when the mogul turns his toes up before he finishes, while Carole's stint as a taxi dancer ends abruptly when a fortuitous panty flash kills an elderly customer. Back at home, Angie turns to the Godfather to put a hit on his disgraceful son, but the Don refuses, claiming his gripe is personal, not business. The jilted Shorty makes the scene, gladly accepting the contract in the end. Meanwhile, the lovers have resorted to crime, with Carole turning to prostitution and Michael choosing cold-blooded murder, as he bashes in the brains of one of her tricks in a fleabag motel room, but as they walk out together, they're surprised to see Shorty, who pulls his burner and pulverizes Michael's skull with a single, slow motion bullet. Top that, Walt Disney. A bizarre, psychedelic montage of disturbing imagery leads the viewer back into the live-action world, where we see Michael angrily tipping a tilted pinball machine over and storming out of an arcade, only to bump into Carole, who, after some brief unresponsiveness, takes his hand and dances us into the end credits.

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"Alright, you win! Helen Reddy is better than Anne Murray!!!"
Jamie "Klinger" Farr of M.A.S.H. fame has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him non-speaking cameo in the live action sequence during the final reel. The fantasy sequence set to Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" experienced some censorship, with the tamest of three versions making it into the final X-rated cut of the film. I'd like to see the other two someday. The folks at Shout Factory, always at the top of their game, released the definitive 40th Anniversary Blu-ray last year, so there's no legit excuses as to why this one has no place upon your shelves. On the scale, Traffic naturally receives a perfect score of four Wops; a thought-provoking, visually dazzling masterpiece that comes with my highest recommendation. See it!

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J.F.K.? Cobain? Dwyer? I give up already, I'm just no good at charades.
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