day four begins with everyone's favorite x-rated feline, ralph bakshi's fritz the cat (1972).
bakshi's first feature film is an adaptation of robert crumb's (who later disavowed himself of the film) influential underground comic. divided into three episodes, it is an occasionally successful satire of certain elements of american culture as the sixties gave way to the seventies. the first episode revolves around fritz's efforts to simultaneously bed a trio of rabbit coeds. promising them glimpses of the sacred truth, he takes them to a party and manages to get them all into the bathtub where things are going swimmingly until the other partygoers horn in on their action. it's not long before the police show up to roust the party and fritz makes his escape. episode two details fritz's adventures in harlem, hanging out with crows, stealing cars, getting in bar fights, getting high and chasing more sex. the final act sees fritz taking to the road with his girlfriend to escape the fallout of the riot he tried to start in harlem. he soon tires of her, though, and strikes out on his own only to be roped into a plot to blow up a power station. hospitalized after the explosion, his girlfriends assemble at his bedside to comfort him and, lo and behold, more sex. it's hard to imagine now what ever merited the x rating. the sexual activity is never graphic, always comical. there are a few moments of full frontal cartoon animal nudity, but come on. did you read the phrase? "full frontal cartoon animal nudity". the people must be protected! as a film, it's no great shakes. it's real worth is as a museum piece and as a pioneer in the realm of animation for adults. this movie pushed back hard against the prevailing climate of disney-fication and had the nerve to actually portray cartoons engaging in the same behaviors that adults were in ever-increasing numbers. it took on the changing times - university culture, sex, drugs and race relations - in a manner heretofore unheard of in animated films. sometimes it works. i particularly enjoyed the segments of the film in which bakshi took actual recorded conversations with people and animated them. these vignettes gave the film a much-needed grounding in the everyday. the skewering of both liberal and conservative hypocrites and bullies was welcome and little touches like the contradiction of the police pig being jewish were amusing, if only sophmorically so. so half of it worked. the other half was like watching late night dutch television.
you knew we couldn't go that long this week without a musical. melvin van peebles keeps the party going with his film adaptation of his own stage play, don't play us cheap (1973).
it's the story of a pair of devil bats who are sent, in human form, to crash and break up a house party in harlem and it makes about as much sense as it sounds like. i really wanted to like this more than i did. i am a fan of melvin van peebles and this was one of his earlier works i hadn't seen before. it just didn't quite pull it off. its biggest limitation was obviously being so stage bound. it would appear that he found a couple of different angles to photograph the stage version from and just let the camera roll. necessity was almost the mother of invention in this case but every time the techniques edged up against the truly experimental, which would have served this film much better, they couldn't quite commit. it is not without its merits, though. it is boisterous and entertaining in spite of its technical and story limitations. first and foremost, the music is great. the songs are fantastic and the performances are unrestrained. esther rolle as miss maybell is the perfect hostess, mabel king is the life of the party and george ooppee mccurn, whose legs are so skinny he makes don knotts look like charles atlas, is effortlessly cool. much like our first film, though, this functions better as an artifact. it captures the spirit of an early seventies harlem house party in amber and is valuable as an example of black filmmakers making their own films by their own rules. i'd say more about it but there really isn't that much more to say. the bottom line: i'd sooner go to this party than watch this filmed version of it. if anything, check out the soundtrack.
finally, we move from musical to music video with walter hill's rock and roll fable, streets of fire (1984).
michael paré plays baby-faced tough guy mercenary tom cody (dash riprock was already taken) who returns home to a town that is most likely chicago, set somewhere simultaneously in the future and the past, to retrieve rock star ex-girlfriend diane lane who has been kidnapped by a gang of young toughs led by a bondage gear-clad biker/vampire played by willem dafoe. hill returns to some of his stock themes here and occasionally it plays a little like an mtv-funded version of the warriors (1979). once again, a "cult classic" that just really didn't do a lot for me. the leads have no chemistry together and michael paré is simply a really bad actor. the side players are lazily written - bill paxton doing bill paxton one more time and amy madigan as the tough as nails, wisecracking sidekick, saying exactly everything you expect her to say. ed begley, jr. shows up in a small cameo and is awesome for about thirty-five seconds and then we never see him again. rick moranis supposedly plays against type as a nebbishy little prick but i'll tell you something - i never bought him as lovable in the first place. that bulbous face hides some dark secrets, mark my words. there were a couple of things i did enjoy, though. the retro elements of the production design worked pretty well and chicago is my favorite cinematic city, so i enjoyed the backdrop, even when it was an approximation they built on the universal backlot. the music was probably the high point. the opening number is staged and shot well and leading straight into the kidnapping it makes for a very exciting beginning. it's just a shame it couldn't maintain that energy. this jam from the sorels also holds up pretty well.