Ralph Bakshi Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I walked out of Ralph Bakshi's first cartoon feature Fritz the Cat because it was vulgar and dull. I didn't walk out of his second, Heavy Traffic, which is vulgar but often interesting.

It mixes animation with some live action as it tells the story of a young New York cartoonist who, while playing a pinball machine (ah, there, Saroyan), wanders off into a (cartoon) fantasy involving a stunning black bar hostess. Subsequently, in live film, he meets her and they "find" each other in Union Square.

There are ghetto derelicts, drag queens, hookers, mafiosi, and other delectations of the New York scene [in Heavy Traffic]; the ambience is grubbiness. Nothing is hinted at that can be shown, including genitals, and the story gets nowhere, not very fast; still some things are extraordinary. First, it's the best mixture of animation and live photography that I've seen—the only one I've seen that had some point. Second, which is the point, the texture, taking us from the real into the distorted real, makes it all a metropolitan Walpurgisnacht. Bakshi hasn't completely avoided tenement-poetry banalities, like the sensitivity of the hero and the hearts of gold in some derelicts he encounters, but in the main, and in the mainline, this is hell. Done with brio and pizazz, peopled with cartoons, but still hell. Which is just how one feels at times in New York and other big cities.

Stanley Kauffmann, in his review of "Heavy Traffic" (originally published in The New Republic, Vol. 169, No. 11, September 22, 1973), in his Living Images: Film Comment and Criticism (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 by Stanley Kauffmann), Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, p. 222.