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DVD Watch: 'Heavy Traffic'

Ralph Bakshi's irreverent feature celebrates its 40th

By Monica Riese, 1:01PM, Tue. Jul. 16, 2013

DVD Watch: 'Heavy Traffic'

It'd be pretty difficult to mistake Ralph Bakshi and Walt Disney. The former is known for his work on the film adaptation of R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat; the latter is the godfather of children's animation. For all intents and purposes, they speak entirely different languages onscreen.

But the two share one very important thing: They were the first two American animation gurus to post back-to-back successful feature films. For Bakshi, the one-two punch was Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic.

Fritz was the first animated film to receive an X rating from the MPAA, and since Traffic touts "more spice than 'Fritz the Cat'" on the cover, it's safe to say this one is equally deserving of its original X. At its core, Traffic tells the tale of young Michael Corleone, a half-Jewish, half-Italian animator, a virgin, and a pinball junkie as he shuffles through life in the rougher corners of New York and tries to break free of his messed-up family life. There's a running pinball metaphor throughout the film as Michael and his supporting cast members are battered around through life's tilts and bumpers only to end up back at the start.

It's partially live-action, but predominantly animated, and it's that cartoony style that creates a sizable cognitive dissonance between the basic arc and the gritty details. Sure, there's the unmistakable soundtrack from the Fifties and Sixties including "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," "Take Five," and "Maybellene," and the art throughout is steeped in the saturated hues that show the film's 1973 roots, but the content itself is incredibly raw. Between the dark humor, prostitution, transvestites, graphic violence, mafia ties, raunchy language, and irreverence that permeate every scene, Heavy Traffic ranges from difficult to watch to impossible to follow, and the occasional scene in negative or blacklight style certainly doesn't help the triply equation.

Indeed, as the Hollywood Reporter wrote upon its original release, the film is "shocking, outrageous, offensive, sometimes incoherent, occasionally unintelligent. However, it is also an authentic work of movie art and Bakshi is certainly the most creative American animator since Disney." That makes the film's 40th anniversary a veritable milestone in cinematic history, and it's in celebration of that anniversary that Shout! Factory presents the film in stripped-down Blu-ray form ($19.97). No special features, slightly muddied soundtrack: It's as raw as its storyline.

Also out today:

The Evil Dead (Sony, $30.99): The highly anticipated remake of the 1981 horror classic enjoyed its world premiere at South by Southwest this year, and now it can finally can come home with you. Read our review and interview with the creators.

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited (BBC Home Entertainment, $39.98): This four-disc set pulls four complete stories from each of the first four incarnations of the lovable Doctor – William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon pertwee, and Tom Baker, respectively – and then piles on special that profile each Doctor. The beloved series celebrates its 50th anniversary Nov. 23; catch up with our coverage of the latest season here.

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