Heavy Traffic (1973):

The animated New York of Ralph Bakshi's ambitious, intensely personal follow-up to Fritz the Cat is easily the city's most scurrilous pre-Taxi Driver portrait. Like that film's overflowing-sewer streets, Bakshi's NYC all but churns with racial and sexual tensions, though where Travis Bickle was a blinkered ticking bomb bent on pernicious salvation, the director's alter ego here accepts and artistically feeds off the grubbiness of his environment. Michael is a 22-year-old virgin scrambling to become a cartoonist in a grimy neighborhood, where he referees the ongoing war between his low-life Mafia stooge father and kvetching Jewish mother. Out of the apartment and into the streets, he ambles through a catalog of freaks, greasers, dopers, beat-up trannies, and legless bouncers, with the possibility of salvation hinging on his relationship with a mouthy sista. Vividly squalid, the film abounds in Bakshi's Crumbian underground misogyny (women are divided between whores and shrews, in either case always with a tit popping out of their blouses) and grotesquerie (shot full of machine gun holes, an Italian don oozes blood and spaghetti sauce in equal portions). If his pinball-arcade philosophizing is rarely more than puerile, the director's restlessness allows for an overlay of raw stylistics -- best-known for blending animation with live-action, the movie also mixes stocks, tints old footage, superimposes tinted footage, and continually spurts gleeful skits propelled by nothing so much as their own creative obscenity. (The hero pitches a "religious" comic about a trash-pile messiah, while a raunchy flipbook interlude scored to Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" is alone worth the ride.) Disjointed but pungent, Bakshi's crude turmoil offers welcome alternative to the homogenized inanities of Disney, which that year could only regurgitate another Robin Hood populated by furries.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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