Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Watching with Ralph Bakshi, Director of ‘Wizards’

Ralph Bakshi, circa 2008

Before he embarked on his impressive but unfinished adaptation of “Lord of the Rings,” maverick American animator Ralph Bakshi created Wizards (Fox), a futuristic fantasy set in the aftermath of the apocalypse. A mix of Tolkein-esque quest epic and seventies attitude, it was like a PG version of an underground comic book made for the big screen, and was Bakshi’s first effort to reach a mainstream audience. It was a hit that got overlooked when another 20th Century Fox science fiction film, a little thing called Star Wars, opened just a few weeks later, but a cult following kept it alive through revival house, college campuses, and video releases ever since.

Wizards debuts on Blu-ray this week in illustrated Blu-ray book with commentary by director Bakshi and the excellent interview featurette “The Wizard of Animation” (both originally produced for the DVD release).

To mark the film’s 35th Anniversary, Ralph Bakshi, now 73 years old and long retired from animated features, talked to Videodrone about Wizards, his career, and what he’s been watching from his mountaintop home in New Mexico.

What are you watching?

Ralph Bakshi: Japanese, Korean, and oriental films off of Netflix. I don’t remember the names, but the ones that are subtitled are the good ones and the production values and the shooting and the camerawork is incredible. And there are also some low budget detective films that they do. I think it’s sensational filmmaking. I’ve been watching an awful lot of that, and I’ve been watching British street films, films made in England about the working classes and their problems, and they’ve been very, very excellent. I’ve been doing a lot of that because they are films I never would have gone to the movies to see. I’m watching no animation.

You say you’re not watching animated films. What’s it like revisiting “Wizards” again after all these years.

How do I say this? My complete budget on “Wizards,” to make the entire film, is spent in a Pixar film in the first minute and a half. What they spend on a minute and a half of a Pixar film, I made my complete movie for. It’s hard looking at these movies that had so many problems. I had no money to do it the way I saw it in my mind, so I get very edgy looking at it. The fact that people are still finding it and enjoying it after all these years is kind of stunning to me. To be quite frank, I thought that they would never be shown again, they were so low budget, so I’ve come to the conclusion that though the work is important and quality is important, what films say might be more important than how they look and what their production values are. The Pixar films and the Sony films and the Fox films are all done incredibly well, visually, and it’s so hard to compete against that with my $1 million “Wizards.” But somehow it does and I don’t quite understand that except maybe it’s content. They’re hard to look at, is what I’m trying to say. They’re hard to look at it.

Continue reading on Videodrone and see clips from the film

Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Lord of the Rings (Part One)

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

Looking at the photograph of Saul Zaentz and Ralph Bakshi in the October issue of Millimeter, I am struck by how much these men, after more than two years’ involvement with The Lord of the Rings, look like two hobbits themselves. It works: Bakshi’s Frodo to Zaentz’s Bilbo … but this Ring they’ve got hold of may prove just as ambiguous in its anticipated effects as the one in this two-hour first-of-two animated films, or the one in Tolkien’s celebrated fantasy series. Although Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has a presold audience, it is an audience that will be hard to please. One thing that is almost sure to disappoint both the skeptic and the rabid fan of the film is the indefinite feeling that accompanies the end of this first part, and the knowledge that one must wait another year or two to make up one’s mind fully. Unlike Lester’s The Three Musketeers, Bakshi’s Part One is not of a piece, but ends on a deliberately to-be-continued note which makes one wish he had opted for either a four-hour feature with intermission or a two-night, two-feature extravaganza all at once, if only to achieve the kind of unity that both cinema and myth demand.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

These Are the Damned and Blu-“Rings” Times Two – DVDs of the Week

The British film studio Hammer is legendary among horror fans for their lurid and lusty Technicolor revisions of the classic monster movies of the thirties, but they came the horror revival through a general focus on genre films, notably (but not limited to) thrillers, mysteries and science-fiction films. The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films (Sony) gathers six black-and-white thrillers made between 1958 and 1963, all distributed in the U.S. by (and some co-produced by) Columbia.

These Are the Damned

These Are the Damned (1963), Hammer’s answer to Village of the Damned, is the highest-profile film of the set, and the most anticipated. It’s a rare auteur piece (directed by American expatriate-turned-continental class act Joseph Losey), a long sought after science fiction item (Losey’s only true genre film outside of noir and crime cinema) and a Hammer rarity that was cut for American distribution and has been restored for its home video debut. And it’s a strange collision of exploitation elements, visual elegance and emotional coolness, a fascinating oddity with strange angles that don’t all fit but certainly add intriguing elements.

It begins as a different kind of genre film: in a cute little seaside vacation town in Britain, Teddy Boys on motorcycles led by the almost simian-looking King (Oliver Reed, with a dark glower and hulking menace) send out a gorgeous young bird (Shirley Anne Field) to attract the interest of an older American tourist (Macdonald Carey). Then they jump the gent for his cash, beating him brutally and dancing away while whistling their theme song (“Black Leather,” a weird quasi-rock chant that doesn’t sound like anything these chaps would adopt but does include almost nihilistic lyrics with nursery rhyme simplicity: “Black leather, black leather / Smash smash smash / Black leather, black leather / Crash crash crash”). “The age of senseless violence has caught up with us, too,” explains Bernard (Alexander Knox), a local authority figure who run a secret project nearby and has his own younger woman (Viveca Lindfors), an eccentric artist who sculpts eerie-looking statues in a small vacation home known as “The Birdhouse” perched, as it turns out, over the heart of the project. It’s all strangely complicated and almost arbitrary the way Carey’s ugly American Simon Wells sweeps Field’s frustrated sweater girl Joan out of King’s clutches, down the bluff from The Birdhouse and into a secret cave system where a small group of children of the atom are raised without human contact beyond video communications.

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