Ralph Bakshi: Still Railin After All These Years
DS: …Not because we're old coots but because you can’t just sit back and let everything objectionable in life pass you by without taking a stand and voicing your concern. Every once in a while you have to put your foot in front of the wagon…
RB: You got to.
DS: …and stop it and say, “OK, this isn’t right. We need to take a closer look at this.” We can't just keep going in this direction solely because we've got inertia. It upsets me deeply, the fact that there is a lack of civility in our society these days. People will say and do anything at any moment without giving it a moment’s thought. The idea of being untruthful, dishonest, lying or being fraudulent, while these are not new issues for our society, suddenly it has become our entertainment. Our society has developed this voyeuristic need to watch people fail, to watch people be deceptive, to watch people be nasty, to celebrate people’s lack of civility. Because the Internet has made every square foot of the world a potential TV studio, anything and everything is fair game. It boggles my mind.
DS: I bemoan this in my own business. There is no money in writing five solid paragraphs on something that might need research and can’t be completed until the next day, when you could write copy three sentences from some other source and be done five minutes later and get it up online or out on your Twitter feed. People used to differentiate themselves with their effort, their moral code, their word, the way they conducted themselves in business, whatever they did. It meant something to do things a certain way, a credible way, whatever that might be.
RB: That's right, that's exactly right. Pride in ownership, absolutely. Do things a certain way…and do them correctly. You know, years ago I yelled at Michael Ovitz. Michael Ovitz, was one of the guys who used to run Hollywood. He started his own agency and he kept getting bigger and bigger. Then he sold out and went to Disney to run it. They finally fired him. I started with him, you know. I said, “Michael, you had a great agency, CAA. You started it, it was yours. You owned it. You built it. You had a shingle out front. Why did you give all that up just to make movies with Michael Eisner?” He tells me, because Michael Eisner was running Disney and he was making more money. He said that to me! My grandfather had a shoe shop in Brownsville. His own shoemaker shop. He put a shingle up. That was our store and we were very proud of it. When I went to the Village and John Coltrane was playing for drinks in the Five Spot off of Second Avenue, he loved his music so much. He was very proud of it.
RB: You know, so that’s what’s changed. People think if you’re straight you are a moron.
DS: Yeah, you’re a rube.
RB: You are an idiot. If you do things right, you are a fucking idiot. But that will change. Steroids in sports, there you go.
DS: Yeah. Like, Lance Armstrong.
RB: Wonderful guy Lance, wonderful guy.
DS: You know… I won't even…
RB: …go on, get dangerous.
DS: No, I won't even get into it. Last question for you…
RB: This has been a fun interview. Go ahead.
DS: When you look back on your body of work, is there anything that gives you a particular sense of personal satisfaction? Whether it was a particular film, a moment in time or a response you received, is there anything that makes you say, “You know what? If that's what I'm known for, if that's the only thing that I got out of it, then that's OK with me.”
RB: Yeah, there is one. That's a good question, thank you. When I watched Fritz the Cat [for the first time as a finished film], that was OK, you know. But when I walked out of Heavy Traffic, I was crying. Making that film, I didn’t have the money for a pencil test or Leica reels. We just animated. I storyboarded myself, timed it with a stop watch then gave it to my animators. Over the year [of production] it would come to me in different pieces, this scene or that scene. They never came in story order. The easy scenes came in first and the heavy scenes came in last. The first time I saw the film cut together, when I finally put it together and screened it for myself, I walked out crying. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea that it would be so strong. I had no idea that it worked. I had no idea that animation could do that.
The big decision, why I didn’t do Fritz the Cat II right away was because I didn't want to do a remake. I wanted to keep moving on. I had this big idea. I wrote and rewrote Heavy Traffic as I went along the entire year of production. The final film had nothing to do with the script I handed into AIP. We kept changing and shifting. The last thing I put in, that I snuck in to Steve Krantz, the producer, was my mother Ida walking around with all those photographs, “You know how beautiful I was…” which is so Jewish and so real. That was snuck in. Then it was thrown out of the picture. Krantz threw it out until I put it back in.
When I walked out of that first screening, I would say that I felt that if it all fell apart now, I'm the happiest guy in the world. That picture was Brooklyn, New York, and so Jewish and so raw. I was shocked! I didn't know I was making that film! You have to understand, it changed and shifted and metamorphosized, very much like an expressionist painting. They paint, they repaint, they paint, they shake out, they scrape and finally it’s finished and they are surprised! When it’s finally finished, they are surprised, I had the same feeling. So that to me was everything.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network