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ralph bakshi interview

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by serum, Jul 18, 2004.

  1. serum

    serum Elite Member

    Joined: Aug 9, 2000 Messages: 4,200 Likes Received: 138
    Your friendly neighbourhood animator


    Are your Spidey senses tingling, yet? The original sixties series by Ralph Bakshi is coming out on DVD. CHRIS LACKNER met up with the man who produced it and other cult favourites

    Monday, June 28, 2004 - Page R1

    Not many people can say that Spider-Man cost them their girlfriend and their drug dealer, but Ralph Bakshi is not an ordinary man.

    Bakshi is the controversial animator behind the cult film Fritz the Cat, as well as the widely panned 1978 cartoon adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

    But long before the 65-year-old garnered both praise and condemnation for his feature films, Bakshi was the executive producer of the original Spider-Man cartoon series. From 1968 to 1970, he brought to life the famous webslinger's battles with villains such as the Green Goblin and the Scorpion.

    While fans may remember the series for its campy dialogue and psychedelic animation, Bakshi remembers Spider-Man for the perpetual feeling of exhaustion it induced.

    "Can you imagine a young man staggering home from the studio burnt out every night of the week?" Bakshi recalls in a fit of laughter from his home in Silver City, N.M. "My girlfriend left me, my cocaine dealer left me. . . . I lost more girls to Spider-Man than I can count -- I wouldn't do it again no matter what I was paid."

    Krantz Films and Marvel Comics hired Los Angeles-based animation studio Grantray-Lawrence to produce Spider-Man's first season in 1967. When Grantray-Lawrence filed for bankruptcy, Spider-Man was entrusted to Bakshi's New York studio in 1968.

    While the show was produced by Bakshi, Spider-Man scripts were recorded in Toronto by Canadian broadcaster Bernard (Bunny) Cowan and his troupe of voice actors. Leaving the voice work to his Canuck counterparts, Bakshi solely focused on improving the cartoon's animation quality.

    "I was working seven days a week around the clock to get the quality right. . . . I was afraid that if I left the studio the whole thing was going to collapse."

    Bakshi says he was given $14,000 (U.S.) and one week to produce each episode. The budget for most modern cartoons is between $450,000 and $550,000 per episode.

    "Only a young, crazy [28-year-old] would ever take a job like that," he says. "It was almost like they were saying, 'Go ahead and do it, we dare you.' "

    Working within a limited budget, Bakshi employed economized animation techniques to produce Spider-Man, often looping the same sequences against shifting backgrounds. But there was integral principle that governed the show's success, Bakshi reveals.

    "Whenever we fell short a couple of minutes, I just kept the son of a bitch swinging."

    Animating techniques aside, Bakshi's early career exploits will be placed under a renewed spotlight at the end of this month. On June 29, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is poised to release the entire original Spider-Man cartoon series on DVD. In addition, the live-action film Spider-Man 2 opens on Wednesday.

    "There's an old Russian saying that says, 'Don't shit in the stream because it will follow you," Bakshi says with a chuckle. "The cartoon is so old and I was so young, . . . [the attention] is kind of frightening."

    Like most animators, Bakshi was a big comic-book fan. When he came aboard the series, Spider-Man was already one of his favourite characters.

    "Peter Parker was a teenager with a flawed personality who had problems with girls," he explains. "His character was a huge breakthrough. Until Spider-Man, superheroes just put on tights and went out and beat someone up."

    Palestinian-born and Brooklyn-raised, Bakshi says his artistic talents emerged at a young age. At age 18 he was hired by CBS-owned Terrytoons studios and worked on a stable of cartoons that included Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse. After a short stint at Paramount Studios, Bakshi opened his own studio in New York in the late 1960s.

    Spider-Man was produced by 40 to 50 people in a small Manhattan loft. Bakshi is still haunted by memories of the studio's creaky, uneven floorboards, its terrible air circulation and the seemingly endless nights he spent there.

    But it was his first studio, and he remains proud of the work it did.

    When the Spider-Man series wrapped up, Bakshi teamed up with Krantz Films for his scandalous 1972 adaptation of Robert Crumb's comic strip Fritz the Cat. The first animated film to be X-rated, Fritz is heralded for breaking down North American barriers to adult-centric cartoons.

    While some of Bakshi's work has been praised, his 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was treated harshly by both critics and fans, forcing him to abandon plans for a sequel.

    Bakshi says he considers the feature films Heavy Traffic (1973), about a young artist's drawing-board fantasies, and Coonskin (1974), a critique of Hollywood racial stereotypes, to be his finest pieces of work.

    "In those two films I nailed down a new language in animation," he explains. "Those are the high-water marks. . . . Hollywood [animation] caught up to me after that and I couldn't make the films I wanted to make any more."

    Bakshi received praise from critics for the short-lived 1980s cartoon The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. However, the series was cancelled after it garnered poor ratings and attracted controversy for allegedly endorsing cocaine use (Mighty Mouse is shown being re-energized by sniffing a white flower in one particular episode).

    "Nobody was advocating anything because the show was a spoof," Bakshi says with a sigh. "People were badgering CBS for hiring the 'Fritz the Cat guy' to do a children's show in the first place. It may have seemed kind of edgy, but it was blown out of proportion -- it was just a way for people to get me."

    Bakshi's last silver-screen foray was 1992's Cool World, a forgettable film -- starring Brad Pitt and the voice of Kim Basinger -- that combined live action and computer animation.

    He regrets making Cool World to this day. When his initial horror-fantasy script was radically changed by the studio, Bakshi says he stuck with the project for financial reasons. The original storyline was about an animator who impregnates one of his cartoons. When the hybrid cartoon-child grows up he tries to kill his father.

    The sanitized Cool World that was produced bore little resemblance to Bakshi's initial vision. "I made the mistake of many directors -- I thought I could animate around the bad script," he explains.

    Disillusioned, Bakshi cut himself off from studio work and became the J. D. Salinger of the animated world. Most of his time has been spent painting from the relaxing confines of his mountaintop home and studio.

    But Bakshi may still have one more film up his sleeve.

    Increasingly agitated by the "tone and ethics of American politics" and what he calls the "greed-fuelled" culture propagated by companies such as Enron, Bakshi says a final film project is brewing in his mind. "Capitalism is fine, but even most thieves have a code of honour. There's got to be a line drawn in the sand."

    While he doesn't agree with all of Michael Moore's perspectives, Bakshi says the documentary maker is one of the only people who still creates genuine "art of dissent."

    Whenever he visits L.A., Bakshi says he is still courted by executives from the major Hollywood studios. But the only job offers he receives are for family-friendly films -- his own projects are rejected.

    "Everybody wants me to do things that are family-oriented and aren't abrasive . . . they want me to be a team player. Why would I go back to do things that I don't believe in? Life is too short and I'm too much of a pain in the ass
  2. Kr430n5_666

    Kr430n5_666 Banned

    Joined: Oct 6, 2004 Messages: 19,229 Likes Received: 30
  3. suddenthud

    suddenthud New Jack

    Joined: Jul 11, 2004 Messages: 14 Likes Received: 0

    on par with the Infamous Vaughn Bode in my humble opinion.
  4. Kr430n5_666

    Kr430n5_666 Banned

    Joined: Oct 6, 2004 Messages: 19,229 Likes Received: 30
  5. Crookedline

    Crookedline Junior Member

    Joined: Feb 4, 2004 Messages: 173 Likes Received: 0
    Kr you're more fun and mysterious when your not so obtrusive...especially in a Ralph Bakshi thread, cmon.
  6. WebsterUno

    WebsterUno Guest


    this reminds me,
    i need to get my
    fritz dvd back.