Ralph Bakshi Harriet Polt - Essay

Harriet Polt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Heavy Traffic is about New York, about violence, perhaps most of all about ugliness. Shorty, a frog-faced legless man, the Godfather slurping spaghetti through enormous lips, the skinny Jewish mamma, the fat prostitutes—all are ugly and either stupid or evil, or both. Even the two good-looking characters, Michael and his sexy black girlfriend Carol, finally turn violent, perhaps corrupted by all the ugliness around them. Ralph Bakshi, the film's writer and director, depicts women with particular loathing, even more than he did in Fritz. Those breasts that keep popping out of blouses are not sexy but disgusting, in much the same way that Kenneth Anger's Marilyn Monroe and the other women in Hollywood Babylon, that classic of softcore misogyny, are disgusting.

The visual devices of Traffic have been rightly praised. The combination of live and animated action, the color effects produced through negative printing and other laboratory techniques, the bird's-eye shots (also used in Fritz), and so on make Traffic frequently a pleasure to look at. Yet the liveaction frame story, with a live Michael and Carol who finally get together, as well as the live pin-ball machine that Michael plays and that sets off the supposed fantasies making up the central part of the film—these devices are more confusing than constructive, muddying the already obscure point of the film. It can be said to Ralph Bakshi's credit that he has achieved the difficult task of creating people-animation rather than animal-animation. But when the characters created are themselves stereotypes, and the action simply an extension of the violence already exploited ad nauseam in live films, one is forced to ask: why bother? (pp. 60-1)

Harriet Polt, in her review of "Heavy Traffic," in Film Quarterly (© 1974 by The Regents of the University of California: reprinted by permission of The Regents), Vol. XVII, No. 2, Winter, 1973–74, pp. 60-1.