- Movie Rating -

American Pop (1981)

| February 13, 1981

I am a fan of Ralph Bakshi’s work particularly because he is a singular voice working in a genre that is often borne by committee.  That’s not a criticism – Disney had the Nine Old Men and Warner Brothers had the denizens of Termite Terrace, but there’s something about Bakshi’s work that is uniquely his, and for me, refreshingly adult.  From Coonskin, to Fritz the Cat to Heavy Traffic, he doesn’t work in the kiddie arena and I like it that way.  I like his unique vision.

American Pop comes packaged with something I hadn’t seen from his work – a great deal of affection.  Indeed, his film wants to explore the power of music and what it has meant to man’s mental state over the course the 20th century.  Yet, it’s not an overarching history lesson.  Specifically, he wants to trace the roots of music through the course of four generations of a Russian Jewish family, starting with a canter who refuses to leave his temple when it raided by the Czar’s forces.  The story follows the succeeding generations through the pre-jazz era, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, psychodelia, punk and the new wave, and then quizzically climaxing with Bob Segar’s “Night Moves.”

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really interested in the family saga.  I was interested in the musical journey itself and I though that maybe a more free-floating narrative might have made it move a little smoother.  I’m not asking for a jukebox, but it might have been interesting to see Bakshi’s film balanced somewhere between a history lesson and a rotoscoped version of Fantasia.

And yes, rotoscoping.  There’s a lot of it.  A good ninety-percent of this film is rotoscoped – a unique technique in which animation is placed on top of actual moving performers.  This has bothered some critics but not me.  While I wouldn’t want this to become to industry standard, it is nice to cut away from the normal practice of cell animation, and it is used much better here than it was in The Lord of the Rings.

I don’t know how American Pop will play to a mass audience, but I tended to go back and forth.  As I say, I was interested in the musical journey but I wasn’t so much interested in the narrative.  It is clear that Bakshi is passionate about this project, I just wish I were as passionate about the result.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized