Film Review: American Pop (1981, directed by Ralph Bakshi)


American PopLong before South Park, The Simpsons, and Pixar, there was Ralph Bakshi.  At a time when animation was considered to only be good for children, Bakshi shocked audiences and critics with animated films that dealt with mature themes and were definitely meant for adults.  His first two films, Fritz the Cat (1972) and Heavy Traffic (1973), was the also the first two animated films to receive an X-rating.  Bakshi satirized racism in the controversial Coonskin (1975) and Bakshi’s adaptation of The Lord Of Rings (1978) beat Peter Jackson’s by 23 years.  It was after the critical and commercial disappointment of the heavily flawed but interesting Lord of the Rings that Bakshi decided it was time to make a film that would be more personal to him.  The end result was American Pop.

American Pop tells the story of four generations of a family of Jewish immigrants and how music affects their lives.  In typical Bakshi fasion, this animated film deals with issues of violence, sexuality, drug abuse, and poverty.  American Pop may be animated but it is definitely a film meant for adults.

In the 1890s, Zalmie (Jeffrey Lippa) and his mother escape from Russia after Zalmie’s father, a rabbi, is killed by the Cossacks.  Zalmie grows up in New York and after his mother is killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he is raised by a vaudeville comedian named Louie (Jerry Holland).  Zalmie wants to be a singer but is shot in the throat during World War I.  His voice ruined, Zalmie marries a stripper named Bella (Lisa Jane Persky) and manages her career.  His partnership with the mobster Nicky Palumbo (Ben Frommer) leads to Bella dying and Zalmie going to prison.

Zalmie’s son, Benny (Richard Singer), is a jazz pianist who, as a favor to his father, marries Nicky’s daughter.  Benny has a son named Tony and tries to pursue his career without using his father’s influence.  Then World War II breaks out.

Benny enlists in the army, seeking redemption from the crimes of his father and father-in-law.  Serving in Europe, he misses his piano and, when he finds one in a bombed-out house in Nazi Germany, he plays a few bars of As Time Goes By.  When a Nazi walks in on Benny, Benny plays Lili Marleen.  For a few seconds, Benny and the Nazi share the common bond of music.  “Danke,” the Nazi says before shooting Benny dead.

Growing up without his father, Tony (Ron Thompson) becomes a beatnik and eventually runs away from home.  He ends up in Kansas, where he has a one-night stand with a waitress and becomes a songwriter for Frankie Hart (Marya Small), a stand in for Janis Joplin.  Both Tony and Frankie start using heroin and Frankie dies of an overdose right before she is supposed to open for Jimi Hendrix.  Abandoned by Frankie’s band, Tony ends up as an addict and dealer in New York.  Accompanying him is his son, Pete, the result of his hookup with the waitress.

After being abandoned by his father, Pete (also played by Ron Thompson), follows in his footsteps and becomes a successful drug dealer.  He is dealing cocaine to all of the big rock bands but, after discovering punk rock, he realizes that he wants something more out of his life.

After announcing that he will no longer sell anyone cocaine unless he is given a chance to record a demo, Pete is given a band and a recording studio.  With the drug-craving record company execs watching, this tough and cocky punk grabs the microphone and sings…

…BOB SEGER’S NIGHT MOVES!?

The use of Night Moves, which is one of the least punk songs ever written, is one of the few false notes in American Pop.  Otherwise, this is one of Ralph Bakshi’s best films.  The majority of the film’s animation was done through rotoscoping, a technique in which animation is traced over live action footage.  (For the gang war scenes, scenes from The Public Enemy were rotoscoped, as was footage of the Nicholas Brothers used in the Sing Sing Sing With A Swing montage.)  Seen today, the technique is crude but effective at showing the contrast between the fantasy of music and the grim reality of life.  Though it has its flaws (*cough* Night Moves *cough*), American Pop is an engaging look at the history and development of American music.

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Long Live The King!: Boris Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER (RKO 1945)


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William Henry Pratt, known to horror lovers as Boris Karloff, was born on November 23, 1887. He toiled for years on stage and in small film roles until being cast as The Monster in 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN. Karloff became an overnight success at age 44, and starred in some of the era’s most memorable fright films (The Mummy, THE BLACK CAT, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). After conquering Broadway in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (in a role tailor made for him), he triumphantly returned to Hollywood and signed a three-picture deal with producer Val Lewton at RKO. Lewton was making intelligent, subtle horror films and Karloff had taken notice. Their first together, THE BODY SNATCHER, was not only their best, but one of the genre’s best, a masterpiece’s of Lewton’s brand of quiet terror.

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Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, THE BODY SNATCHER is set in 1831 Edinburgh, Scotland. Karloff…

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Artist Profile: Clement Micarelli (1929 — 2008)


Artist Clement Micarelli was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island and studied art at both The Pratt Institute and The Art Student’s League.  Micarelli started his career as a commercial illustrator in 1955 but in 1971, after several years of lucrative success, Micarelli retired from the commercial field.  He and his family left New York for Massachusetts, where Micarelli devoted himself to painting full time.  His widely acclaimed portraits hang in collections around the world.

Below are some Micarelli’s commercial work, as well as two of his best known paintings.

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Turkish Film Fest: Kilink In Istanbul/Kilink Istanbul’da (1967, dir. Yilmaz Atadeniz)


Earlier this year I reviewed probably the best known Turkish Superman film called The Return of Superman. It’s Thanksgiving week and there are bunch of these fun Turkish movies. I thought I would review a few this week, starting today through Saturday. That, or I have a backlog of these movies and this is a good excuse to watch them. Either way, I hope you enjoy them.

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We are beginning with Kilink In Istanbul. Kilink is the Turkish knockoff version of the Italian comic book character called Killing. This is one of several of these. The best way I can think of to describe them is to compare them to the Fantomas serials from the 1910s. Except if Fantomas was a sadistic kidnapper, murderer, and all around really really nasty guy. I don’t recall Fantomas being this bad. And if Inspector Juve were Superman. No joke, this is Kilink (Yildirim Gencer) fighting Superman (Irfan Atasoy). Although, my subtitles just call him Superhero and other places you see him called the Flying Man, but come on. Just take a look at him.

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At the beginning there is a somewhat confusing opening credit sequence. It’s clearly gonna play at the start of each of these to give a little introduction to the characters. Speaking of characters, here’s the other one.

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And Kilink wears that skeleton thing for the entire movie. The question is what exactly is he in this. During the opening credits some people bring in a coffin, inject a mummy with something, it rises up, and underneath is Kilink. Was he hanging out in there? Was he hiding in there? Was he resurrected? It never really says. He just takes off the stuff, starts to plan a crime, then in seconds is off to do it.

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That being to kill this doctor who he once knew. Presumedly, before he died. Apparently, he has some formula that Kilink needs to complete his ultimate weapon. Kilink thinks he has what he needs, but it turns out pieces are missing. Now we are introduced to the doctor’s son. This is an odd scene because it’s really random. The son is at a graveyard when all of a sudden this guy appears.

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He tells the son he’s going to give him a list of powers. I’m not going to repeat it since it’s almost the exact same thing that Superman’s father says in The Return Of Superman to Superman. You can see it in that review. He tells him that all he needs to say is “Shazam” and he will become Superman. Then he gives him a warning that “only in great danger must be used and not in front of others.” Then POOF! He’s gone up in smoke just as quickly as he came.

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In short order, Kilink’s henchmen show up and try to take Superman hostage. This is when we find out that this Superman is not like the Superman from The Return Of Superman. In that one, he basically stands there till the person tires themselves out, then Superman tosses them aside. This Superman dives right into the action. Sometimes quite literally.

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Superman is already a thorn in Kilink’s side.

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Did I mention this movie moves fast? This movie moves fast! Meanwhile, Kilink is going around reminding us he’s a bad guy. Like when he goes after this girl.

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Then he proceeds to rape her?

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I put the question mark there because I’m not really sure. It seems like that’s what is going to happen, but then she seems to be in to it. Also, there’s a girl later in the movie with the same color hair. I’m pretty sure she hooks up with him, but I’m not 100% positive. That part was a little difficult to follow. Let’s just say, Kilink has a history of being nasty to scantily clad women like the Wikipedia article on the character says. Not that he’s any better to the guys. And that a girl who looks like this is at his side for the remainder of this movie.

At this point, aside from henchmen around Kilink and some people around Superman, it basically becomes a series of showdowns between Kilink and Superman in one form or another. Here’s some highlights.

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Superman Flys

Superman Flys

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I know this was shot in Turkey and the villain’s name does start with a ‘K’, but perhaps they should have only had two henchmen in this shot.

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It certainly is an entertaining hour or so. It really does move fast. It’s like an old serial such as Fantomas, Les Vampires, Judex, or Spiders. It’s a series of action sequences that really don’t move the plot forward, but just set up Kilink and Superman as enemies, then it just ends.

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Well, I have three more of these so I guess we’ll see what happens. In one of them Kilink fights Django. I wonder if that one will ripoff Spaghetti Western music in addition to the James Bond music it uses in this one. Ought to be interesting!

Note: There is a version of this on YouTube that appears to have 20 minutes more of runtime that aren’t even acknowledged as existing on IMDb. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have subtitles and my copy does come up and say “End Of Episode”. In these extra 20 minutes or so it appears Kilink gets his weapon working. Kilink also spends some quality time with his lady friend. A woman dances for Kilink. Then Superman shows up to beat people up. We get to see Kilink and Superman fight a bit. Honestly, you’re not missing much. It’s more of the same: Kilink being evil and Superman fighting people. It also ends out of nowhere. However, if you happen to speak Turkish, then by all means, seek out this clearly more complete version.

4 Shots from 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff!


 

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking. The late, great King of Horror Boris Karloff was born on this date in 1887. Here’s 4 Shots from 4 Films in his memorable career:

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bedlam (1946)

Bedlam (1946)

Black Sabbath (1964)

Black Sabbath (1964)

Targets (1968)

Targets (1968)