Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fritz the Cat - 1972

"Fritz the Cat" - 1972
Dir. by Ralph Bakshi - 1 hr. 18 min.

Teaser Trailer

"Fritz the Cat" is, at this point, more of an important film than a good one.  The lessons it has to offer have been largely absorbed: adult-oriented animation is it's own genre now.  At the time "Fritz" was made, that was pretty far from the case.  The proof of that lies in it's pulling an "X" rating.

"Fritz" is an anthropomorphic movie, based on a R. Crumb comic.  Fritz, the character, is a disaffected NYU student, a writer longing to live life to the fullest.  He's a part-time musician, full-time tail-chaser, occasional dope-smoker.  Most of the movie is a satire of Fritz and his lifestyle, pretty much everyone except Fritz can see through his aspirations.  He accidentally burns down his dormitory because his roomies are immersed in their studies instead of carousing, he goes to a crow bar because he wants to understand the plight of the crows, after a night of smoking weed and running around with a hooker, Fritz incites a riot that sees the crow that had befriended him get shot by the police (while he escapes untouched).  One of his girlfriends tracks him down and offers to drive them out to San Francisco, and to get a secretarial job while Fritz works on his poetry.  After that falls apart, Fritz falls in with a radical anti-establishment group, and finally realizes that it's all a load.

So where did "Fritz" earn it's X-rating?  By today's standards, there's a lot of sexual content.  Today's adult-oriented cartoons seem to largely ignore sexuality, lean heavily on swearing, and offer a wink and a nudge toward drug use.  Here, all three are front and center.  It doesn't feel out of place, director Ralph Bakshi offers a coarse world full of people concerned only with physical pleasure, and in that regard it nails it's target perfectly.  It would be difficult to satirize the 60's with any insight at all without confronting this behavior, so I didn't really feel the material was prurient or solely for titillation.  So I guess it's a matter of taste.  I wouldn't claim that "Fritz" is for everyone, but it didn't feel like the controversial material was there without purpose.

My favorite scene in the whole movie doesn't have any controversial material in it, however.  When Fritz's New Yawker girlfriend decides that it's time to eat in the middle of their road trip, Fritz goes off on this tangent about how he wants to find a greasy spoon diner, so that he can talk with the truck drivers about what life on the road is really like (as if they'd give him the time of day).  He gets very excited about the idea, and she spots a place and makes a beeline for it.  They find themselves in a Howard Johnson, Fritz looking like he'd rather kill himself than eat there.  Post-meal, the girlfriend says something about always being able to rely on Howard Johnson for a good steak.  It's a sharp piece of business, delineating how much their expectations out of life differ, and foreshadowing their blow-up later in the film.

"Fritz" is pretty interesting - I'm always fascinated by low-budget animated films come to be.  It's a trailblazing film, although when you're satirizing something very current, time isn't always going to be as kind as you'd like.  It's difficult to imagine that today's crop of adult-oriented cartoons would exist without "Fritz" existing, if only for the idea that cartoons didn't need to be for children.  Plus, if you ever wanted to see a cat try to hump a crow, "Fritz the Cat" has it covered.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

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