Rip-Roarin’ Rock & Roll Yarn – AMERICAN POP
AMERICAN POP is a visually arresting tribute to American music.
A unique (and uniquely-rendered) animated film that spans four generations, Ralph Bakshi‘s American Pop (1981) is the tale of a Russian Jewish family’s turbulent journey towards the realization of the American dream. Unfortunately for the impoverished family, loss plagues them, continuously chopping them down, as if cursed with a ‘close but no cigar’ hex. And yet despite all the pain there remains one true constant in this family – music. It flows through them effortlessly, each generation blessed (or cursed?) with the gift for writing or playing heartfelt music with stunning results. It’s this talent that hurtles our heroes across forty years of unforgiving American historical landscape, shaping their dreams and sinking them all at once, like a double-edged sword. The film works like a survey of American culture, from Jazz to Punk and all points in between, making American Pop as much a musical voyage as it is an animated, visual one. And speaking of the the animation, this one’s a beauty – using the process of rotoscoping, in which live-action footage is animated over, resulting in characters that truly feel real. This contrast, evident in other parts of Bakshi’s animated wonderland (Lord of the Rings, Fire and Ice, Wizards), has always rubbed me the right way. And highlighted here by ‘huge’ pop songs, often sung by the main characters themselves, Bakshi’s magic is particularly effective in evoking tone and emotion. He doesn’t shake our suspension of disbelief by ever explicitly claiming his characters have written the originals (we all know a coke dealer didn’t sing target=”_blank”>Night Moves) – he’s simply evoking a sense of where these characters are emotionally and historically, which gives them a poetic truth that’s profound and compelling. And even though Bakshi has some misses in his filmography (damn you, Cool World!!), this is not one of them – possibly because of his personal, autobiographical connection to this immigrant story. Sure the narrative gets clunky – Hell, if you wanted to, you could probably skip a generation and tell the same tale with equal results – but you know what? Warts and all, I still find myself coming back to this movie time and again. Coming back to the sonic assault of color and sound, and good-ol’ adult-targeted animation at its finest. So do yourself a favor and crank up the volume on this creature – even if it means pissing off your neighbors.