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Review by Trylon rotoscopist Maria Gomez

Ralph Bakshi’s 1981 cult classic film American Pop a timeless story of one Russian family and their history of  American music told through four generations. The story begins with Zalmie coming to America with his mother in the late 19th century as Russian immigrants. They are looking for a better life than what they had in war-torn Russia. Through an unfortunate event, Zalmie finds himself living the life of a stage performer.  As the story continues we see Zalmie grow and live through societal and political changes but we also see the growth of his musical family; his sons, his grandson, his great grandson, and so on.  We see how each generation changes from the last and we see each character grow with the times, the wars, the fashion trends, and the music….always the music.

If you walk away from this film remembering two things, it will be the animation and the music.  Bakshi implemented some of the most famous American music of the 20th Century and he did not exclude any musical genre. We even hear the Vaudevillian music that was popular at the start of the 20th century to the Big Band era of the 1940’s all the way to the punk scene when it reached America in the late 1970’s.  Bakshi really throws the progression of musical evolution and styles together so eloquently that it flows naturally and only adds to the story that is being told. In a brilliant sequence in the film, Bakshi attempts to show us the tragic contrast of that time by presenting various couples swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing while alternating with scenes that take us through the violence of World War II.

Bakshi also makes use of visual imagery in the film and not only with his animation. He truly creates an emotional backdrop of the time by inserting photographic images, as well as live action video footage of pinnacle moments in time. Iconic images that we have all seen before but here, are cleverly used in a way to tell the story with impact-to take us back to that time that we can experience for just a brief moment but one that will never happen again.  From the infamous image of a woman horrified at the Kent State College shooting to the gruesome image of a Vietnamese man being executed by a militant on the street, Bakshi charges the film chock-full of emotion that is difficult to deny.  One reason that this film may feel so emotional is Bakshi’s style of animation. Bakshi used a technique called Rotoscoping in which his illustrators would draw over live actors; through this technique he was able to give the impression of realism in a way that brought the character’s facial expressions and body movements to life.

In this way that he gave “life” to his subjects through his filming style and animation technique, Bakshi gives us a cinematic painting of a slice in time. Although some critics may disapprove of this style, there is no denying that, combined with the music soundtrack and stunning visual imagery,  American Pop is one of Bakshi’s most stunning films to date. — Maria Gomez

 AMERICAN POP screens Monday and Tuesday, August 10 and 11 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

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Review by Trylon southpaw Ben Schmidt

It’s late after fight night. The crowds and most of the staff of this VFW (or dilapidated theater or wherever we’re at) have all gone home. Four young boxers sit around a table, mere feet from the ring where hours before they each took a beating. Surprising, because each arrived that evening bursting with pride, sure they’d come here to win.

Such is the fat of Fat City, flesh that’s gotta burn so the rest of the system can function. But that being said, if young, athletic, fresh-faced Ernie (Jeff Bridges) is the fat, then what to make of broken, raw, rough-around-the-edges Tully (Stacey Keach)?

Gristle perhaps. Because by its very definition, all gristle was once cartilage, a healthy, productive material found on the surface of joints. A thing that helped other, more important things move. But by the time we’ve caught up to it, something significant enough has happened to warrant a change in label. What once was cartilage is now nothing more than gray, indigestible tissue that gets forked over to the side of the plate.

John Huston’s Fat City opens on Tully, forked by way of an umpteenth hangover to the side life’s plate. And if there’s one thing this film does both right and wrong, it allows us to chew on the gristle for a while.

Tully rouses himself in no particular hurry. Finds his way downstairs to the street to dance a little jig. Then retreats back inside. But there’s a method to this madness, as the long-take (one of many in this film) allows us to gnaw on this particular piece of gristle, surprisingly charming in its own right.

Soon we’re at the YMCA, where Tully runs into young Ernie, who’s throwing punches against a heavy bag. Tully just happens to have a couple sets of boxing gloves with him, and is able to cajole Ernie into some light sparring.

The kid isn’t bad? Maybe? We’ll never know, because Tully quickly claims a pulled muscle and sends Ernie towards the guys who used to train him. Good guys. The guys who will soon sit around Ernie and the other suckers (or up and comers?) feeding them more of what they need or want to hear.

It’s tough to know what to make of most of Fat City. The deeper we’re drawn into Tully’s story and all its messy edges, the harder he is to follow.

But perhaps that’s the point. By the time Tully and Ernie cross paths for the first time in a long time, and perhaps for the last time, late into the film, it’s surprising the two agree to share some time over a cup of coffee. But here all along, we’ve been wondering what to make of fat and gristle. And at the end of this story, they surprise us, by openly questioning what’s to be made of them. –Ben Schmidt

 

FAT CITY screens Friday and Saturday, August 7 and 8 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, August 9 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

 

 

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Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards may not be the animator’s best film, but it’s arguably his most ambitious. The movie takes place millions of years after a nuclear war has destroyed virtually all life on Earth. From the ashes an anti-technological utopia has emerged, led by gentle fairies and elves, and other magical creatures who had chosen to remain in the shadows of the old world. Far away, hideous mutants who are descended from the all-but-extinct human species embrace the machines developed ages ago, and plot to use them in order to regain control of the Earth.

Avatar, an ancient elf wizard, leads a quest to destroy his twin brother Blackwolf, the leader of the mutants. Blackwolf has discovered a secret weapon from antiquity that will give him the power to crush the magical armies. This weapon — Nazi propaganda films — serves to both bolster the morale of his ghastly army and to intimidate the magical folk who oppose him. Fighting under the banner of the swastika, the mutants crush all opposition, and Avatar desperately tries to reach his brother’s redoubt in the province of Scortch before it’s too late. He is aided by warrior elf Weehawk, the buxom, scantily-clad fairy princess Elinor (this is a Bakshi film, after all) and assassin-robot-turned-good-guy Peace.

There are some interesting ideas in Wizards and some really great visuals (at one point we see the interior of a temple where an ancient Coca-Cola sign and a jukebox are among the relics worshiped) but the movie is also decidedly uneven. Bakshi’s rotoscoped battle scenes (taken from Alexander Nevsky, among others) don’t mesh very well with his own animation, and it’s clear the movie’s meager budget wasn’t able to support the story he wanted to tell. While there are some scenes with impressively painted backdrops, too many sport quickly-done, smeary backgrounds, and other scenes are played before stark black-and-white sketches.

In spite of its shortcomings, Wizards is a fascinating picture. Released just a few months before Star Wars, it’s a good example of what most science fiction in the 1970s looked like in the pre-George Lucas era. It’s a movie big on ideas and short on cash; there’s an unmistakable hippie vibe that runs through through it, and an anti-technology streak so broad that movies themselves are painted as a danger to peace and freedom — an unusual idea to encounter at your local cinema.

Bob Holt provides the voice of Avatar, playing him as a sort of stoner Peter Falk. Jesse Wells does the best she can with a part intended primarily as eye candy, and Mark Hamill has a cameo as a fairy king named Sean. Perhaps the best vocal performance in the movie is the splendid narration provided by an uncredited Susan Tyrrell. — Michael Popham

 

WIZARDS screens Monday and Tuesday, August 3 and 4, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.