Ralph Bakshi has never been one for self-censorship, a fact that has readily manifest itself his work, resulting in some of the most ground-breaking and uncompromising films of the 20th century, animated or otherwise. As we discovered in our face-to-face conversation with the 69-year-old Brooklynite, such unfettered expression has a tendency to manifest itself in some of Bakshi’s professional relationships, as well.
The mention of underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb, for example, who created the title character for Bakshi’s 1972 film Fritz the Cat, was more than enough to launch the animator into a bare-knuckled diatribe against the artist—one which carriers over well into the third part of this interview.
It’s this same lack of creative compromise that has lead, for better or worse, to Bakshi’s inability to recapture the scale of success that defined Fritz, largely relegating the animator to the status of cult hero.
In this third part, Bakshi happily explains why he initially abandoned the mainstream and never looked back.
Did Crumb have a similarly negative reaction to The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat? [Neither Bakshi nor Crumb were involved in this 1974 sequel]
He didn’t bother to discuss the Nine Live of Fritz the Cat. He would have to say, “well, Ralph did do a better picture than Nine Lives.” So to Robert Crumb, there is no Nine Lives. It doesn’t exist. The only Fritz the Cat he’s mad at is the one I did, because if he discussed Nine Lives, he’d have to say, “well, you know, for all of my bullshitting about Ralph, Nine Lives is even worse than what he did.”
What were you own impressions of the film?
I never looked at it.
You weren’t curious?
No. I went on to do something far greater. Heavy Traffic is a far greater film than Fritz the Cat. And Coonskin is a far greater film than Fritz the Cat. And American Pop is a far greater film than Fritz the Cat. And Wizards is a far greater film than Fritz the Cat. Fritz the Cat is the least great of my movies.
Do you have any regrets about having made it? Do you feel like it still stands up?
Yeah, I regret having made Crumb all of that money.
But in terms of the artistic—
No, I didn’t need that film to be—I don’t know. Heavy Traffic was my next film. Why did I need Fritz the Cat?
Well, you said that it was the success of that film that propelled you onto bigger and better things.
Yeah, that’s right.
Does it stand up, artistically?
Of course it stands up artistically. I made it.
It’s just a lesser film than your later films…
Easily. But it stands up artistically—it was all Bakshi. Tell that to Mr. Crumb! [Pauses] I’m just growling at Crumb…
Do you consider how audiences might receive film, when you begin production?
No, when I’ve done films, I try to do the film that I love and hope audiences will receive it. And when they receive it well, and the producer takes all the money, I get mad.
Are you affected by criticism, at all?
So you’re essentially just making a film that you want to see.
That’s exactly right. I believe it’s hard to spend a year and a half in animation on a film if you’re not really behind it. I don’t know how some of those guys do it. But they all work on little sections of the film, at Pixar and Disney. I’m such a personal director that I write and direct most of this stuff. It makes me invest a lot of me in what I’m working on. It would be impossible to spend that kind of time on something that I think is just too commercial, because I really don’t have the slightest idea about what is commercial.
That has to make it difficult to get projects off the ground.
I can’t get projects off the ground anymore.
Because the audience has changed? Because the studio has changed?
Well, the studios have changed—the budgets have gotten bigger, but as the budgets have gotten bigger, and the advertisers have gotten bigger, they need bigger box office results. They need more people in the theaters. They want something that the whole family can go to, because it means more money for them. So they work very hard on something that a 14-year-old boy would like, and an eight-year-old boy would like, and the parents would like. These things have a range that will bring more people in. The Bakshi films bring would bring less people in—or so they think. I think a Bakshi film could bring lots of people in, but that’s what they arrived at. That I was too dangerous.
You’ve never had that drive to create something more universally appealing?
[Shakes his head.] I think people are idiots. Look, why do you want to make a movie that’s universally appealing? What do you get out of it? I have an opportunity to scream about things I hate, or things I don’t like, or point fingers at things. That’s what a cartoonist should be about. That’s what the cartoons that I love are about. That’s what I love about cartooning. You can scream, and yell, and point fingers.
I don’t want to make a family film, because I can always paint a picture and sell it at a show. I sold eight paintings at the gallery at Broome st. not bad. No one tells me what to paint. That doen’t mean, for a second that I don’t like money, but there’s no reason to make something that appeals to people, only to appeal to them. I did that for 12 years at TerryToons. It bored the hell out of me I’m not that kind of artist. I don’t like to collaborate and have people tell me what to do. I don’t want to work in the story department. It just doesn’t pay to spend that kind of time working well with other people. It’s boring. I don’t want his idea, I want my idea. Not that my idea is better, it’s just that it’s my idea. I can’t make films that way.
[Continued in Part Four]