52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2000
I remember very well the effect this film had on me right after leaving the theater; everywhere I looked on the drive home, people looked like cartoons. In Heavy Traffic, animation artist Ralph Bakshi presents us with a look at life in the early 70s (late 60s?), city style .... and this city is gritty, not entirely pretty ....
Michael Corleone (not the only reference to other popular films of the times) scribbles away at his drawing board while his Catholic father and Jewish mother wage Armageddon outside his door. He finds comfort and release seeing the world as an absurd, psychotic cartoon. Pretty much a loner, his main connection to the outside world is a black bargirl named Carol who works right downstairs from him and slips him drinks for his entertaining sketches. An unfortunate incident with a drag queen associate costs Carol her job, and she and Michael end up out on the streets together, since he can't seem to make ANY sort of job situation come together. They form a sort of hustling alliance, with him as her pimp, and they nosedive into dark urban realms of the quick buck and the inevitable personal compromises involved.
All this is interposed with images of live city backdrops and numerous references to a pinball game. Ralph Bakshi's animated vision is a moving work of underground pop art which, despite limitations, was a groundbreaking achievement that pushed the frontiers of American animation thousands of miles. I can see the influence of this film (and Bakshi's work in general) on the likes of Matt Groening, Don Bluth, and yes, even parts of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Heavy Traffic is dark, rude and dangerous. At times it has an almost experimental feel, moving at a stream of consciousness pace more than any conventional narrative. Its portayal of characters is raw and extreme, has an exaggerated sort of believability to it. It also has the feel of a semi-autobiography, with its portayal of a creative misfit struggling against the odds for survival, if not personal validation.
This very personal work goes places other animations of the time wouldn't even consider, was rated X at the time of its original release, and was re-released very shortly afterward in a lightly watered-down R-version. The recent DVD release appears to be a restoration of the original artwork, is a nice clean print, despite the full-frame format and mono soundtrack. It would be nice to see this touched up with a slightly refurbished soundtrack (it IS animation, after all); at the same time the compressed sound lends to the quaint sort of 70s feel to it, creating an air of nostalgia rivaling that of The Iron Giant. And these guys weren't even trying!
My appreciation for this special film has not diminished over the years; indeed, I understand it a bit more as an adult. It captures the dark, skewed out, surrealistic beauty of the urban underbelly, delivers some nasty bellylaughs, shows us the world as an oversized cartoon arcade game, and reminds us that all we can do sometimes is just keep playing that game. Even if we do end up getting our head blown off by a paraplegic midget on a skateboard. This stuff happens .......
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2006
Heavy Traffic will likely never receive the attention or respect it deserves as a piece of honest to goodness Americana. Like most of Ralph Bakshi's most personal work, it is rough hewn, obscene (though never pornogaphic) outrageous and damn honest. Along with Coonskin and Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic is about life in the 60's (in fact, taken together these three films form a kind of animated triptych). All three films are about revolution of one kind or another, personal or social, contain plenty of poetry, both visual and narrative and are more about life as we know it then the fantasy of life as we might wish it to be, which seems to be the standard for most animation today. Let's hope that eventually Ralph will get his due as a pioneer of animation.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2009
"Heavy Traffic" is a masterpiece of animation, despite the flaws it has. It dares to tackle with more complex human emotions and issues, far more than had ever been done since the Golden Age of Animation. The story deals with the trials and tribulations of young Michael Corleone (yes, that's his name), a 22 year-old Half-jewish, Half-Italian aspiring cartoonist. He lives with his parents, Angelo and Ida Corleone, whose relationship make Al and Peg Bundy look like Ozzie and Harriet. The film also talks about life in 1973 New York (tough place to be).
First off, there is a lot of great animation in here, although it lacks precision and professionalism , although I chalk that up to lack of funds for pencil testing and Bakshi's relative inexperience with feature animation. However, the animators do manage to get the personality of the characters across quite well. The characters in this film feel real, although they have caricatured appearances, but in some ways, the cartoony drawing style of the movie enhances the emotional realism of the characters. They're both lovable and deplorable at the same time, which makes them feel like real people. You'll never see Mickey Mouse or even Bugs Bunny do any of the stuff they do in this movie. One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is that it prides itself on being a animated movie. A lot of animated films have followed the Disney pattern of trying to disguise the animated factor by following a live-action pattern (trying to emulate live-action). This film tries to do what can only be done in animation. As such, there is a lot of surreal moments loaded with symbolism, although you will have to watch it a few times to get them. A key strength to any Bakshi film, but particularly his early ones, is collage of different styles. The characters are sometimes traced over live backgrounds (actual photographs), or the animation takes a whole new turn and transforms into something like the brilliant Maybellene sequence (set to the classic Chuck Berry song). Bakshi in those days was all about forging ahead and trying to create something new.
However, despite its brilliance, this film has a few rough patches. There are many good parts to this movie, but it's only after multiple viewings that the film connects as a whole. This shows a lack of clarity in storytelling, which isn't surprising since Bakshi tended to improvise as he went along. Although it adds a sense of adventure for production, it doesn't help create a coherent film. Also, did we really need to see Ida's breasts or have the gag about Angelo crapping his pants. I could have done with out those.
Aside from these minor complaints, "Heavy Traffic" is a great movie that is lightyears beyond Bakshi's previous film, "Fritz the Cat". This DVD does no justice to the films. We need a DVD commentary from the man himself, along with the animators who worked on this. Thank you for reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2005
What is to be highlighted: The highest quality of this truly classic surrealistic piece. I take it as a qualifying American answer to such European surrealistic classics as Luis Bunuel's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Each absurd of our life, pictured there, is blown-up to a quite visible and sensible proportion. It is my opinion, that "Heavy Traffic" even surpasses "Fritz the Cat," regarding such qualities as range and depth of depicted ugliness of the "dark side" of human nature.
Also important is than not everybody appreciates surrealism. Therefore, this item is not for everyone, and especially is unsuitable for not mature audience (because of quite credible quality of certain graphic scenes).
I find as no surprise that some of the most notorious faces from "Heavy Traffic" can be spotted in recent times in many places, take "The Simpsons" as example.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2006
This is another great film by Mr. Ralph Bakshi, one of the most unheralded filmmakers of his era. I don't think he's ever gotten the respect he deserves as an artist, because all of his film were animated or were animated with some live material. This is his darkest film, a surreal, sad, brutally funny, politically incorrect film about the loner Michael (who may be based on Bakshi himself) and his world. His world is bleak and scary, yet, he somehow finds meaning through his art. Some have called the film racist, misogynistic, vulgar, and trash. It isn't any of those things. Bakshi's work has always brought on controversy, especially this film, and the ones that preceded it and followed it, Fritz the Cat and Coonskin. This is a companion piece to those films, almost an unofficial trilogy. This film was also X rated when it came out, so that naturally gave it notoriety (it was later re-rated R). It's a shame they don't make films like this anymore. Bakshi is a genius. He is not only a great animator, but a great filmmaker/director.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2002
Watching Ralph Bakshi is something of a guilty pleasure. You always get the feeling that things could be a whole lot better, and yet no one else ever seems to bring animation to life with such a personal style. Heavy Traffic has a lot of faults, and may also be the best thing he's ever done (though I know there are a lot of Wizard and even Ring fans out there). Not for everyone, but fairly entertaining in its own troubled way.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2002
Not my favourite Bakshi movie, mind you. That spot will always be reserved for 'Wizards', regardless of how hard the critics panned it (generally the same critics who thought the awful 'Fire and Ice' was great.)
In any event, Heavy Traffic is a more satisfying movie than Fritz the Cat, with which it probably has more in common than any other Bakshi movie. Sure you can always pick holes in Ralph Bakshi's films, but what about the strong points: his gorgeous use of dialogue. The actors sound completely uncoached and spontaneous. I've always thought the dialogue in Bakshi's films up to Wizards was masterful. I could listen to it with the picture turned off.
Heavy Traffic is probably autobiographical in part. At least, if it isn't, Ralph sure went out of his way to make it seem that way. Protagonist is a young cartoonist...
The supporting cast are almost all low-life of one sort or another; losers, psycopaths, bigots, masochistic transvestites, dysfunctional parents, alcoholics, amputees, or a combination of the above. And for the most part they're repellant and irresistable at the same time.
You might have noticed I haven't mentioned the plot. Don't worry about it. The plot isn't the thing. Just immerse yourself in Bakshi's mise-en-scene; the characterisations, the dialogue, the backgrounds, the music, the underlying dirtiness and violence - you've got to just absorp the thing as a whole.
BTW this film has, in my opinion, the most terrifying moment-of-death scene of any movie I've ever seen (also one of the longest, unless you count 'Jacob's Ladder', which is nothing _but_ a moment of death scene.)
Well anyway, I think it's a great adult animated movie. Ugly, dirty, with little socially redeeming value, but if Bakshi's version of Lord of the Rings, or 'Fire and Ice' make you cringe, you might just like this one (alternatively, if for some unfathomable reason you thought his Lord of the Rings was a classic, don't bother with Heavy Traffic. You'll probably hate it.)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2008
by Dane Youssef
This is rumored to be animation-pioneer Ralph Bakshi's favorite among all his projects. And no wonder. This is his story!
A 22-year old Jewish-Italian spends his time playing pin-ball non-stop and drawing. He still lives with his parents, an Italian man who cheats on his wife and a Jewish woman who's so emotionally torqued up--such a drama queen, that when Angelo comes home after a night with his lady, she hits him over the head with a frying pan and sticks his head in the oven.
There's always domestic unrest in any family, particularly with interracial married couples who lived in the Bronx around this time. But they're so wound-up, so ready to snap--they come to blows and sharp instruments a little too quickly.
Way too quickly, in fact. Angelo and Ida's Punch-and-Judy relationship--coupled with the problems that reside outdoors in the Bronx--Michael seems doomed to have some of it rub off on him. "You hang around garbage long enough, you start to stink," as they say.
But Michael has an outlet for his angst and confusion. Rather than fall into the trap many around him seem to, he vents himself at the drawing board. He draws a lot of the people and places in the Bronx. Although he seems to dislike many of them, they're so broad and colorful and wired, they translate easily to caricatures.
Bakshi takes us to all the usual haunts we visit in his movies--trashy ghetto neighborhoods with buildings that look condemned, dirt-cheap apartments, behind the wheel of cars, rooftops, nightclubs, bars, brothels.
The lives of all of the Bronx inhabitants: Jews, Italians, blacks, drag queens, junkies, vagrants, hookers, cops, thugs and the like. And by using animation, Bakshi (and Michael) sort of illustrate their world and their eccentricity, which is so dangerous, it borderlines on insanity.
I wasn't particularly crazy about the disco remix of "Scarborough's Fair." What can I say? I fell in love with the original.
But I suppose it does fit in with the nature of the film. Bakshi uses a lot of shots of Michael playing pinball. He's a big pinball fanatic. It's obviously a metaphor, perhaps for the hectic universe in which Michael bounces from one scenario to another, for which he's constantly out of place.
Carol is a black woman who works at a local bar where Michael draws on the roof. She's loud, she's opinionated, she's passionate. And she really seems to be about something. She's not just an ethnic joke.
Like all bars, there are lots of colorful locals there, plenty of dangerous ones to be sure.
Michael tries to score free drinks with his art. But that's all he tries to score Michael's no ladies' man and he knows it. He's a deep, sensitive, skilled artiste. And a sitting duck for some of the louder, tougher guys who make up the city.
It doesn't help matter that he's a virgin and everyone knows it. At one point, some greasers try to hook him up with a loose woman who's eager to have it with a guy who's so fresh and green. Although this leads to a disaster. Even his own father tries to hook him up. Now there's a true loving father for you.
Michael has an eye for Carol (many people at the bar she tends do), not because he's dying to get laid like nearly every other male. But he seems to genuinely feel something real for her. When she offers it up to him in gratitude for a favor, he faints. He wants her, but he's just not ready.
Ida is fussy and over-protective of her son, just like a mother hen. Or rather a Jewish mother. Angelo wants his son to be more of a "man's man."
Like all of Bakshi's films, this contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual images, as well as caricatures in the ethnic vein.
But surprisingly, in the strangest way, it contains real heart, as well as some sweetness. The relationship between Michael and Carol has to be seen. Bakshi could've made her just an archetype like everyone else and he didn't. She's just as developed and human and relative as dear Michael is. These two deseve one another.
"Heavy Traffic" is wildly imaginative and thrilling in all it's glory. Like "Being John Malkovich," we actually feel like we're inside the author's head rather than his film. This truly ranks as Bakshi's best. He deserves more credit for this than "Fritz The Cat."
How much of all this take place in Michael's mind and how much of it takes place in his reality? Maybe they're one and the same. Maybe not. Maybe we're supposed to figure it out. It up to us. Just like Michael's life is up to him.
The characters in the city are so damn cartooniSH and erratic already, they transfer them into cartoon characters without losing anything in the translation.
Bakshi doesn't paint a pretty picture of the city and it's locals. But then again, he never has, has he? That's one of the things he's known for.
But that's not the only thing. Let's hope that when he goes... he'll be remembered for a lot of things.
Especially this one. It is... not only his best, not only one of the year's best... but of the best.
by Dane Youssef
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
Breathtaking. Get past your own discomfort with relating to racial sterotypes and realize that this film is genius. A love story at heart, and perhaps one of the most profoundly honest and insightful films to date, Heavy Traffic broke the barriers of 'political correctness' before the people who coined that term were even born. If nothing else consider what is being said about settling for the familiar and not venturing outside of your personal neighborhood. Awe inspiring, Ralph Bakshi should be canonized.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2000
It is about time that studios started looking into their back catalogues and releasing some old gems especially animated ones. This is a surreal reality cartoon from the genius Ralph Bakshi, a blighted but brightly lit urban landscape filled with far out characters. NOT FOR KIDS Now if we could get them to release all of Bakshi's work
Wizards- Fritz the Cat- Fritz the Cat 2- Streetfight- Lord of the Rings- I would especially love to see the short lived but spectacular Mighty Mouse series he did put on dvd! Even todays animated laugh fests on tv don't compare to this mans work.