Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cool and the Crazy

First let me say that I am a huge fan of Ralph Bakshi and have been watching his animations since I was a kid. And for all of you who are familiar with his work I am talking about the age appropriate stuff, The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Lord of the Rings. It wasn't until I was in middle school that I discovered Cool World and then even later in high school before I rented American Pop. But my defining Bakshi moment wasn't until I graduated from high school and moved away from home, when by luck I stumbled upon Heavy Traffic. Bakshi introduced me to the art of rotoscoping and opened my eyes to the fact animation could be used to tell gritty stories it wasn't just for children's fare. Sure I had seen a couple of Manga films by this time and my high school band Overthrow had at least one song about Hideki Takayama’s controversial film Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. But this was a different kind of gritty story, this wasn’t vampires, demons, or even futuristic biker gangs. No this was a story of Michael an underground cartoonist trying to make his way in a city full of crime, sex & violence. The dirty city of 1970’s New York seemed to be as much of a character as Michael himself, Bakshi was just turning over rocks and showing you what crawls in the muck underneath. That’s what made Heavy Traffic so neat, it felt like you were getting transported back to a different time and walking the streets of a city that didn’t exist anymore but still lived and breathed within Bakshi’s mind. I later watched Coonskin and Hey Good Lookin’ two more of his New York animations, both are good in their own right but to me are not as strong as Heavy Traffic which is really Bakshi’s swan song to the rotten apple that was pre-Giuliani New York. With that being said Crazy and the Cool is a failed attempt to do something similar.
Almost continuing where Hey Good Lookin’ leaves off we find ourselves back in Bakshi’s 1950s era New York, a world of cars and greasers and in this story, cheating wives. Michael (Jared Leto) and Roslyn (Alicia Silverstone) are a couple married straight out of high school. Michael spends his days working and Roslyn is stuck at home raising their baby longing for the youth that she feels she is losing and the life that is passing her by, At least she is after her cheating best friend Joannie reminds her of this. Joannie introduces Roslyn to Joey a friend of her lover Frankie. At first Roslyn resists Joey’s advances but before you can say poodle skirt Joey is having his way with her. on the beach well tormenting Michael over the phone letting him know what he’s up to. You see Joey isn’t a very nice guy; he doesn’t care about Roslyn like she thinks he does, in fact he’s already married and using Roslyn like a game. Of course Michael ends up on the outs with Roslyn and ends up pursuing his beatnik co-worker Lorraine further complicating matters. Basically this movie plays out like a bad soap opera. In the past Bakshi’s characters have appeared one sided to me but maybe I was more willing to forgive him because they were animated or maybe it was because the plot seemed more interesting. But in the case of Crazy and the Cool the dude cannot abide. Besides wondering if it’s merely a coincidence that so many of his character share the same names Michael (Heavy Traffic), Roslyn (Heavy Traffic) and Crazy (Hey Good Lookin’) and Lorraine’s quote (see below) I’d say pass on this one and check out Heavy Traffic.
The following is a direct quote from the movie and in my opinion the best part. I agree with a lot of what Lorraine is saying and often wonder to myself “just whose dream are we buying into?”
“You've got these rules, Michael... but whose rules are they? Whose dream are you buying into? You've been angry for so long you don't even know it. We're all scared... but somehow we don't believe that babies, TV sets, two-car garages and McCarthy are going to make us happy. You think Roslyn did something wrong. Maybe in your world she did, but in our world she's just fighting for some sort of freedom - freedom from slavery she can't even explain. Don't you see, Michael? Life is not wall-to-wall carpeting with half down and the rest of your life to pay. You and I had a good time, some tenderness... but you can't even enjoy it because somewhere in your mind it was dirty... un-American. Figure out what you want, Michael. I'm not sure time is on your side…”