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March 10, 1981 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1981-03-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ARTS
Tuesday, March 10, 1981

J

Thie Michigan Daily

Page 5

American Pop':

The art of

animation

By DENNIS HARVEY
Whatever happened fo movies that
got better as they went along, saving
their goodies for a final payoff? A
majority of recent films tend toward an
opposite effect, doing as well as they're
able to up a certain point, then slum-
ping into implausibility and de-
energized desperation. Such is the case
of the first two-thirds of Ralph Bakshi's
American Pop-it's quicksilver
brilliance, a fairly extraordinary
achievement that manages to justify
the pompous .event-making of its
adline: "The State of the Art in Living
Animation. '.'
That line is actually pretty accurate.
Bakshi has by now completely left con-
ventional animation behind in favor of
drawing over live actors, achieving a
fluidity and naturalism of movement
that's new to the field. Impatiently gif-
ted and ambitious, he's an
animator with -little in-
terest in making just ano-
ther cartoon - American Pop
is no less than a rich, complex social

history of America's last 80 years, with
more subtleties of character and
emotion than one would ever expect
from a non-live-action work.
IF BAKSHI wants to work with the
drama of live-action narratives, why
doesn't he just work within the other
form? The answer wasn't always clear
in his middling Lord of the Rings, but in
American Pop it works, dazzlingly, and
it's apparent that he's been working
toward this seamless fusion of styles all
along. Animation allows Bakshi to do
impressionistically, in rapid-fire
cinematic shorthand, things that would
have to be carefully played out in a
conventional feature.
The first hour is a masterly or-
chestration of Americana, charting
huge changes through a Life Magazine
montage of pop art images, unexpected
character relevations, touching set-
pieces and, always, the irresistable
bleat of popular music. The story
follows four successive generations of a
family started by a Jewish immigrant
child from Russia. His father is mur-
dered by the Czarists, his mother killed
in an American factory fire, the boy

i

promised brilliance, only to die in WW2,
while the next generation's male child
leaves suburbia for Kerouac's road, in
search of anything, and winds up as a
junkie writing songs for a Jefferson
Airplane-modelled group. His son
finally makes it, venting four
generation's fury as a punk rocker.
The cultural kaleidoscope Bakshi of-
fers through the beatnik era is brash
and critical, superbly designed, and
always dead on target. At this point,
though, the whirl of events slows,
presumably because we can relate bet-
ter to our closest relations, the hippie
and the punker. Bakshi's musical and
dramatic judgement begins to go
awry-the understanding he's had of
earlier eras becomes increasingly
superficial. He's never had a concep-
tion of women beyond huge-breasted
kitsch vixens in any of his films
(Though this image works
well through all the early
American-pie montages), and the
Grace Slick lush figure that the beatnik-
turned-basket-case falls for is just an

annoying presence, sustained far too
long. And why use lame cover versions
of "Want Somebody to Love" and other
songs rather than the originals?
THE PUNKER is all done up as' a
Helmut Newton Aryan ice god,
scowling behind impenetrable
sunglasses. But when he finally gets to
sing his enraged heart out, with
imagery of razor blades and spastically
contorted dancers on screen, out
comes-Bob Seger's "Night Moves"?!!
Heart's "Crazy on You"!? Pat Benetar,
bless her little "punk" soul, is in there
somewhere too. Whose conception of
punk, or of new wave, is this? The film
ends ludicrously, taking up postures
without any understanding of what they
mean or how the music relates to them.
Still, a solid hour of American Pop is
remarkable. The leering F. C. Comix
juvenilia of Bakshi's earlier works has
vanished, or at least been put into a
proper pop perspective; there's now a
genuine emotional maturity to match
his still-increasing technical ingenuity.
American Pop finally disappoints, but
not until it's had plenty of time to sur-
rise and delight us.

Ralph Bakshi doesn't kid around in his animated films. His latest,
'American Pop', is modestly being touted as "The State of the Art in Living
Animation."

marries a burlesque queen and
promotes her to singing stardom in

smoky 1920's speakeasies. His son
becomes a laconic jazz piano player of

16mm film fest

Coconut Telegraph

If you haven't already been attracted
to the music of Jimmy Buffett, Coconut
Telegraph probably won't convert you.
But to those who have followed Buffett
and his Coral Reefer -Band through
their first ten albums, this newest work'
should come as a worthy supplement.
The songs remain the same, like it or
not; there are few diversions.
After single-handedly destroying
whatever mass appeal he had with the
release of "Margaritaville," Buffett
thas had to live with a vocally partisan
public-inexorably split between those
wvho appreciate and defend his music,
and those who would just as soon see
Jimmy Buffett dangling lifelessly from
his much-ballyhooed main mast.
BUT 'HE HAS persevered, em-
ploying the same formula, and
retaining essentially the same back-up
musicians, that he did when White
Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean was
cut. Greg "Fingers" Taylor, Michael
Utley, and Barry Chance continue to
anchor the Reefers, playing har-
monica, piano, and lead guitar, respec-
tively. Coconut Telegraph features the
usual array of guests, such as J.D.
Souther, co-writer of a bluesy swing
tune called "The Good Fight," David
Loggins, who helped compose and per-
form "Island," and percussionist Dr.
Kino Bachellier.
While his approach remains con-
sistent, Buffett's tone seems slightly
different here-the raunch and
irreverence which marked his earlier
albums are lacking; there is less of the
uninhibited, free spirit that was
epitomized in "Let's Get Drunk (and
Screw)" many albums ago. Instead, a
recurring theme is his advancing age,
and his slide over the hump: "Growing
Older But Not Up" concerns his in-
creasingly frail, battered physical con-
dition; "Little Miss Magic" is a sen-
timental tribute to his young daughter,
in which he sings : "I see a little more of

me every day/I catch a little more
mustache turning gray . . .'
AS BUFFETT has built a career
around such autobiographical lyrics, it
is' characteristic that the hell-raiser
would succumb, if gradually, to the
pragmatic, introspective symptoms of
middle age. For what it's worth, this is

begins
By ADRIENNE LYONS
You won't see these films at your
neighborhood drive-in. Of course, they
aren't the kind of peep shows seen at
adult book stores, although some are
just as short.
What you will see this week at the 19th
annual Ann Arbor 16mm Film Festival,
is approximately 100 experimental
films that run the gamut from
animation to documentaries.
MANY OF THE films to be shown
are similar in style to past offerings.
But Festival Co-manager Ruth Bradley
said she saw a slight emphasis on the
use of music in this year's entries. For
instance, New Yorker Cord Keller's en-
try, Sing for Your Life, focuses on a
self-proclaimed rockabilly's transfor-
mation into the Spirit of American
Rock'n'roll,
In Sing, Jack Michael plays down-
home, country boy Ersel Lee from
Monroe, La. who enters a talent show in
which punk-style judges, unbeknownst
to contestants, kill the losers.I
But Sing is obviously one of the more
sophisticated, high-budgeted, films.
Flashy colors, slick costumes, and loud
punk music make this movie a cross
between The Rocky Horror Picture
Show and The Gong Show.
AS A RATHER stark contrast,
Franklin Miller, a pastfestival entrant
from Solon, Iowa, is offering a four-
minute satire on teaching "art." In The
Natural Order, computerized charts
analyze barren winter scenes in such
esoteric terms as "compositional
strategies" and "centers of attention."
The NaturalOrder seemingly opens
with the intent to do little more than
confuse the audience. But it's saved by
its conclusion, which points out the folly
of trying to "teach" an unteachable
craft.
Despite the variety of entries, the ac-
tual number of films offered is down
from last year. Bradley said only 250
films have been submitted, compared

today
to last year's total of 300. Asked why the
films are fewer this year, she flatly
said, "Money. The cost of making films
is so expensive."
EVEN THE FESTIVAL itself,
Bradley said, is only a "break-even
operation at best" which is dependent
on private contributions and gate
receipts. Last year's festival drew
more than 6,000 people.
Bradley explained that filmmakers
submit their entries to the seven-
member Screening Committee, which
reviews each film and selects those to
be shown during the week-long festival.
"We're different (from other film
festivals) because there are no
categories for submission," Bradley
said. "We don't request that. It makes
for a bigger mix (of films)."
The final night of the festival is
devoted to screenings of the award
winner's films. The awards will be
about $6,000, with a special $1,000 prize
for the most promising filmmaker.
The festival begins tonight at the
Michigan Theater and runs through
Sunday night, with showings at 7, 9, and
11 p.m.

LBERT
ChLINS

r

r
;
'
r

NW. HARCB 1

/

- 1t-EMATE9R or 'friLE9CA5T v.'
611 CHURCH ST. 996--2747T

preferable to faking youthful delirium,
and gives Buffett depth that con-
spicuously escapes many of his peers.
At the same time, though, the more
vigorous songs on Coconut Telegraph,
such as the title cut and "The Weather
is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful,"
while enjoyable enough, seem con-
trived and forced, presenting the
primary shortcomings of the album.
Hence, the aforementioned conclusion:
If you're thinking about picking up your
first Jimmy Buffett record (i.e. in-
troducing yourself to his music), you'll
be better off with an earlier one,
namely AIA, Havana Daydreamin' or
Living and Dying in Time. These
remain his finest works. But if you've
been keeping up with the band, and
standing by the Reefers despite the ad-
versity, you'll find Coconut Telegraph a
good investment.
-Steve Hook

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