The Immigrant Songs of Animator Ralph Bakshi

November 29th, 2011 | Marc Weidenbaum | 3 Comments | Categories: Blog, Events, Tikva Records

  • Ralph Bakshi is one of the great American animators, and for one night only (December 3) he will be in San Francisco to discuss and to screen excerpts from such trailblazing films as Heavy Traffic, Fritz the Cat, and the uniquely Jewish American Pop. He’ll do this with longtime friend/poet Melvin Wilk, in a conversation led by writer/scholar Richard Simon.

    Bakshi achieved many of his most lauded works with the process of “rotoscoping,” in which live-action footage provides a template for illustrations. The technique informed such Bakshi films as Fire & Ice (a collaboration with Frank Frazetta) and The Lord of the Rings. His career can be traced back to production studios of the mid-1950s, when he began as a “cell polisher” for Terrytoons and was soon animating such titles as Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle.

    American Pop deserves particular attention in the context of the December 2011 Tikva Records pop-up store in San Francisco. The film is a masterpiece of ecstatic conflation. It ties together the disparate threads of American popular song, everything from pre-WWI emigre culture to ragtime to the Brill Building to the rise of rock’n’roll. (See original production cell reproduced here.)

    And it accomplishes its epic sweep through a Zelig-like creation: not an individual who happens to be a background character throughout history, but a multi-generational Jewish family that is presented as fully responsible for major cultural milestones.

    The family at the heart of American Pop arrives in the U.S. during the late 19th century from Russia, barely escaping Cossack predation. Each subsequent generation then participates in the development of a distinctly American blend of popular music. The family may gradually assimilate, but the film never forgets its cultural roots. (Bakshi arrived in the U.S. with his family in 1939, a year after his birth, from Haifa, in what later became Israel.)

    Songs ranging from Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” are attributed to various members of the fictional American Pop family. They are sung in full, resulting in a kind of patchwork musical. The film’s song-based structure parallels the work of Bakshi contemporary Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) and prefigures today’s TV hit Glee.

    American Pop opens in the 1890s and runs for nearly a century, right up to the era of the film’s release. Had it been completed a half decade or so later, perhaps we would have seen a Rick Rubin figure making his mark during the emergence of hip-hop.

    Join us on December 3, when Ralph Bakshi visits Tikva Records in San Francisco’s Outer Mission to talk about the Jewish roots of his work.

    (The production cell image appears from the collection at vegalleries.com.)

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3 Responses and Counting...

  • Chadwick Crawford 11.29.2011

    What time?

  • It starts at 7pm.

  • This was fantastic. Thank you, Mr Bakshi, for your time earlier, and for the honest, heartfelt and down to earth portrayal of american life and human existence you deliver in your productions.

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