Ralph Bakshi is a figure almost without precedent or equal in American movies: a feature filmmaker who worked not so much separately as simultaneously in live-action and animation. Other animators (e.g., Frank Tashlin, Tim Burton, Mamoru Oshii, Brad Bird) moved from one form to the other or sometimes intermingled them; Bakshi worked to obliterate the boundary, especially as he moved into rotoscoping (the coloring of live-action subjects).
He’s also unusual in that unlike those other directors, his 1970s work was startlingly, confrontationally adult — not just in sexual frankness, but in its taboo-busting assaults on racial, ethnic and class-bound sore spots. Fritz the Cat is the most famous, and the misunderstood Song of the South riposte Coonskin remains his most audacious — it’s a movie contemporary viewers watch with boinging Tex Avery eyes. But his X-rated 1973 feature Heavy Traffic is his most personal: a portrait of the artist as a streetwise, sex-crazed pinball wizard (name: Michael Corleone) struggling to escape the toxic household of his Italian-American pop and Jewish mom.
The underground-comix grotesquerie may have dated badly, but Bakshi’s hyperbolic urban depravity makes this the closest you’re likely to get to an animated Last Exit to Brooklyn. It screens at midnight this Friday and Saturday at The Belcourt; The Frist Center’s Megan Robertson introduces the feature, showing in conjunction with the Frist’s current Watch Me Move animation exhibit.