Ralph Bakshi must be the first feature animation director who had no dream of being the next Walt Disney or even Max Fleischer when given a chance his films being show in commercial movie theaters. He had no intention of dedicating himself to family friendly movies that would build an empire of theme parks, TV channels and thousands of licensing deals. He didn’t spend hours developing his creations so that they could become thrill rides that exit through the gift shops. What did he want from his feature films? Ralph understood that he could expressed himself through animation without it being watered down to wholesome entertainment. That’s not to say he’s always been anti-kid friendly. He got his start at Terrytoons making Deputy Dawg and Mighty Heroes for the small screen. But when he projected onto the big screen, his animal characters were extreme adults. His adaptation of Robert Crumbs’ Fritz the Cat was rated X hit that got into mainstream theaters. Bakshi followed it up with a more personal film starring humans. Thus Heavy Traffic arrives with a tale of pinball, comic books and interracial love sealed with an X-rated.
Michael Corleone (Joseph Kaufmann) draws away as non-employed underground cartoonist living in New York City back when it was a seedy wonderland. He enjoys spending his days at a nearby arcade. He enjoys encountering the colorful characters lurking in the shadows. He doesn’t have too much ambition since he’s happy to still be living at home with his semi-mobster dad (F Troop‘s Frank DeKova) and mom (Terri Haven). Michael falls into a relationship with Carole (The New Centurions‘ Beverly Hope Atkinson). She’s a bartender who needs a boyfriend as an excuse to quit getting hit on by a guy. However she clicks with Michael. This proves to have its own consequences since Carole is black and Micheal’s father doesn’t want her in the family. He goes to an extreme to end the relationship using his business connections. Michael and Carole decide it’s better to get their own place. He shares with her some of his best comic ideas. The most involving of the stories involves a few characters that would reappear in Bakshi’s Wizards. There’s even characters that resemble Jawas from Star Wars. This was four years before Lucas would take us to that galaxy far, far away. Michael thinks he’s found a producer eager to adapt his work to the big screen, but things fall through with a brilliant disaster. Carole’s attempt to get a straight job also goes bad. Finally the duo are forced to enter a life of crime.
Most animated film pick one style and stick with it. Heavy Traffic is a mix media melange. There’s live action, traditional animation, mixing of animation with live backgrounds and even animated sketches. There are moments where the screen looks like a giant flip book. This is not the Disney way of animation that so many copied over the decades. This mixing of techniques gives layers to the story of Michael. Where is the reality in a story that floats through so many existences? Can this all be merely what he imagines while addicted to playing pinball and hearing “Scarborough Fair” by Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66? Luckily you don’t have to ponder it too hard. Bakshi’s images tumble onto the screen from a gritty fever dream. Heavy Traffic proves that Bakshi was comfortable entertaining adults and not appeasing families.
The video is 1.66:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the color and detail in Bakshi’s animation. The various techniques employed can be fully appreciated. The audio is DTS-HD Mono. The audio likes to bounce around from the music to musings, but everything sounds fine with the extra resolution. You might be able to hear the voice of Jaime Farr.
This Blu-ray comes with no bonus features.
Heavy Traffic crystallizes the animated vision of Ralph Bakshi. He’s not happy doing creating saccharine creations for the whole family. He wasn’t there to be the next Disney. He made movies to be Ralph Bakshi. The only disappointing element of the Blu-ray is a lack of bonus features. Although if you desire to learn more about the film, just pick up a copy of Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi book. While the version on the Blu-ray has an R-rating, it’s hard to tell if it’s taken from the ’74 reissue that was slightly snipped by the distributor to lose the X.
Shout! Factory and MGM present Heavy Traffic. Directed by Ralph Bakshi. Screenplay by: Ralph Bakshi. Starring: Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson, Frank DeKova and Terri Haven . Running Time: 77 minutes. Rated: R. Released: July 16, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.