Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson
Director:  Ralph Bakshi
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  76 Minutes
Release Date:  September 5, 2000

Film (zero stars)

I consider myself an animation fan.  Iím no fan of Ralph Bakshi.  I know plenty of Ďtoon buffs through the years that have heralded his work as visionary and revolutionary, but for me, watching one of his films has always been like being trapped inside the mind of a crude adolescent, who finds all the wrong things funny and whose taste runs gleefully toward the perverse and the disgusting.  For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. Bakshiís work, his most recognized commercial endeavors include Fritz the Cat, Cool World, and the Rolling Stonesí video for Harlem Shuffle.  Iíve seen a few of his films, and Iíve considered most of them weak, uninspired, and self serving.  But until I saw Heavy Traffic, Iíd never known such complete repulsion and hatred toward an animated film.  Or frankly, just about any kind of film.

Iíve been reviewing movies for about three years now, and this marks the first time Iíve actually given a zero star rating to a picture.  Sure, Iíve reviewed plenty of films that Iíve disliked, but Iíd never come across one that I thought was so completely devoid of redemptive qualities it deserved the mark of the lowest of the low.  There truly is a first time for everything, and while I donít relish dropping the ax, I can still do it with a clear conscience.

For starters, Iíve never cared for Bakshiís style of animation.  It exists not to tell a story, nor to create characters, but rather, seemingly to express some kind of bizarre violent psycho-sexual fantasy world that exists in his mind, as well as, Iím guessing, to make himself laugh.  What kind of things does he find funny?  Drawing intimate body parts, for one.  He loves to create strangely proportioned women and have a breast pop out of a dress for a personal appearance.  Other parts get equal attention, in even more grotesque and exaggerated ways, but Iíd prefer to maintain as much of a standard of good taste as I possibly can in this review.

Bakshi also finds humor in stereotyping.  The lead character, Michael (Kaufmann), has an Italian father, a Jewish mother, and an African American girlfriend.  The Italian father is a bloated, unkempt, beer guzzling womanizing abusive pig, who of course, works for the mob.  The Jewish mother is clinging, aggressive, insulting and overly protective of her son.  As for the girlfriendówell, there are a number of black characters in this film, and all of them are either hoodlums or prostitutes, and Bakshiís script never misses an opportunity to implement the Ďní word, even by Michael to his own girlfriend.  

Oh, and the handicapped are ridiculed, too.  Bakshi obviously thought it was funny to have a bouncer with no legs.  Laughing yet?  Bakshi obviously has no instinctual understanding of the nature of comedy.  The bouncer might have garnered a chuckle, albeit a cruel and crude one, had his condition served a purpose in the story.  But, no.  Bakshi wrongly assumes that the lack of legs itself was the gag, rather than the foundation of one.

Even worse is the way he tries to play scenes of domestic violence for laughs.  The father and mother go at each other with various weapons, and the blood spatters frequently (pausing for the occasional breast-popping-out gag).  It eventually ends with the father beating the mother until sheís bloody, bruised, and apologetic, and the movie presents it like a punchline.  Repulsive.  Then, as a topper, the mob father puts a contract out on his own son simply because heís sleeping with a black woman.  Just in case you thought it wasnít going any lower. 

And what of Michaelís relationship with Carol (Atkinson)?  Is it an attempt to comment on racial prejudices?  Does it boldly imply that love smashes through all societal barriers?  Given that Michael is pimping Carol to pay for their trip west, I tend to think not.

Violence and sex are here in equal abundance, and though Iím certainly no prude, I was appalled at the complete lack of responsibility Bakshi had in trying to coax laughter out the most horrible looking images he could conjure up.  I compared his thinking to that of an adolescent, and that really shows through in the look-what-Iím-getting-away-with attitude towards his work.  We see, among other things, animals engaged in sex, juveniles beating each other until they collapse in rivers of blood, an execution scene that features a godfatherís bullet wounds oozing blood while he still munches his spaghetti, and a slow motion, almost loving close up look at a head being blown open while the brains and skull scatter.  And, just to be well-rounded in its tastelessness, there are also scenes involving urination and defecation. 

I donít want to give the impression that Iím one who thinks animation should be strictly family entertainment and not try to push any envelopesóIím all for creative expression in any form, and I fully respect Mr. Bakshiís right to make a picture like Heavy Traffic if thatís the kind of film he wants to see.  I also reserve my right as a film lover and a critic to loathe such a boastfully valueless piece of cinema. 

And as far as animation goes, no bars have been raised here.  Though the cover box proclaims Leonard Maltinís quote that the film is a ďrevolutionary combination of live-action and animationĒ, donít buy it.  Animated characters were simply often imposed on live action backgrounds, many of which are poor fits, to save time.  You want a car in traffic on a busy street?  Draw one car and put it on top of stock footage of real cars.  Cityscapes too involved to draw?  Donít.  Take a picture of a city and put your characters in the foreground.  Thereís no interaction between real and unreal.  Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse was more advanced than anything offered here.

The resulting visual style hurts the head and churns the stomach.  Thereís no flow, no rhythm, no cohesiveness, and certainly, no point.  I found myself wanting to metaphysically reach out and grab Ralph Bakshi by his lapels, shake him violently, and demand that he give me back the hour and fifteen minutes of my life that he so cruelly wasted.

Video **

MGM has elected to present this film in full frame rather than itís correct 1.66:1 ratio (the food is terrible, and such small portions?).  The major problem with the video is in the print itself, which suffers considerably from aging artifacts, most notably dirt, scratches, smears, and debris that flicker across the screen (worse in some scenes, better in others).  Thereís also a bit of noticeable color muting, particularly apparent in the filmís live action finale.  It looks like nothing more than a bit of good old fashioned fading.  As far as the digital presentation, there are no signs of compression artifacts along the way:  no grain, no color bleeding, no shimmer and no chroma noise.  Nor is there any indication of undue softness.  I think itís fair to say that, except for the framing issue, MGM has done about as well as they could do with this source material.

Audio **

This is a perfectly adequate 2 channel mono mix.  Nothing about it is either good enough or poor enough to merit a mention.  Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the music sounds fine, with fair but unspectacular amounts of dynamic range.  The best part of the feature may be the beatnik sounding version of Simon and Garfunkelís Scarborough Fair, performed by Sergio Mendes.

Features *

The disc only contains a trailer, but for once, I was actually thankful for the absence of a commentary track.  Had there been one, I would have had to watch this thing a second time in order to report on it!


Heavy Traffic is simply just about as bad as it can get.  Itís so bad that you canít even laugh at how bad it is.  Itís crude, sloppy, tasteless, and utterly repulsive, with attempts at humor thatís bound to offend just about anybody who doesnít perpetually have the mind of a twelve-year-old.  Thereís plenty of good animation and anime available on DVDóembrace it instead, and avoid this travesty.