Having spent the 70s in Romania and missed much of the cultural fresh air, I am in a continuous process of recovering some of my lost time. Music was the only form of art which crossed the Iron Curtain thanks to Radio Free Europe and to the vinyl records smuggled through customs, but otherwise I am still catching up with much of the books, films, and arts of the times of my first youth. The animated feature Fritz the Cat realized in 1972 by Ralph Bakshi was one of the sensations of these years, the first animated movie to be X-rated and break the taboos of the children and family oriented cartoons industry. Bakshi himself – born in Haifa in 1938, and brought by his family in the US in 1939 – seems to be an interesting character and creator, refusing to compromise and to follow beaten paths. He rather seems the kind of artist who breaks his path through.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0068612/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0068612/

 

With ‘Fritz the Cat’ Bakshi takes a popular comics character created by Robert Crumb and throws him in the decadent New York of the beginning of the 70s, as kind of a fall-out student whose only purpose in life is having sex with as many and as different girlie animals as possible, smoking pot, and participating a revolution or two on the way. I liked the way Bakshi positioned his character catching the big features of the hippie generation, and placing it in relation with the other anti-establishment movements of the era – the anarchistic revolutionaries, and the Black Panthers. We recognize the landscape from the metropolis and universities of the ‘Undergraduate’ to the desert crossed by the trucks and motorcycles of ‘Easy Rider’. We laugh at the characters (an anthology scene has three NY chicks trying to draw the attention of a black – well, crow with texts about how beautiful is the color, another one features the cat followed by pig policemen in a synagogue, with one pig being .. hum, Jewish), we recognize the music – original score, sounds authentic because it is authentic. It’s irreverent and daring.

 

(video source Colin Macleod)

 

‘Fritz the Cat’ may not be a masterpiece and was never meant to be one. Animation is maybe not mother of innovation, and the pace of the story does not match the masterpieces of the genre it departs from, but the same happens when a road movie is compared to a thriller which happens on the roads. It is an important film in my opinion because it broke the conventions and showed the power of the genre. Many other creators followed, not in the same genre, not in the same mood, but using the techniques and daring to dare, because after Fritz using animation for any subject was possible. Fritz was unique.