Heavy Traffic (1973) Poster

(1973)

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9/10
Bakshi's most personal work is a completely outlandish, crude, overtly abstract New York satire
MisterWhiplash27 April 2007
Heavy Traffic is, like many of Ralph Bakshi's films, a like it or hate it affair, but for those that respond to it, the film provides many a surprising attack on sensibility, decency, and what it means to get by in urban sprawl. It's almost too personal; one can see Bakshi or friends of his having gone through some of the little things in the lower ranks of New York City's daily life (particularly Brooklyn life) as depicted here. But it's this connection to a personal reality- and then a TOTAL adherence to turning this reality on its head and making it as wild, violent, and sexually deviant as possible- that is the key to the success of Bakshi's film, the best of his I've seen so far. His main character, Michael, is probably loosely based on himself; a young, would-be underground cartoonist who lives with insanely irate parents (Italian father and Jewish mother), and interacts with the neighborhood he's in with a casual attitude and a little reluctance to join in the mayhem that goes on with such kooky cats. Enter in Carole, a black bartender who won't take s*** from anyone, who teams up as a business partner, more or less, with Michael to first get cartoons off the ground, then, so it goes, misadventures in prostitution. It all leads up to an ending that isn't expected, though a sort of double-piling of shock and pleasant surprise.

Heavy Traffic outlays Bakshi's outlook on life in a skill that could be called animated exploitation film-making. However, it's through this overloading of characters *meant* to be unattractive, sexually piggish, wretchedly racist (and, on the other side of the coin, sexist), and violent in the tradition of the Looney Tunes cartoons with the worst taste, that the film gets to the guts of the matter. It's a half-embrace, half-attack on a lack of values in a society, and as Baskhi relishes in his excess, he also is criticizing both himself for lapping it up and those in the neighborhood for being such eccentric mother-f***ers. And, as a satire should be, it's very funny, occasionally uproariously so. Scenes like Michael being pressured to get it on with the girl on the mattress on the roof, and the outcome as a sort of running gag; the scene with the song Mabeline playing, as Baskhi puts out drawings that are without much color, and look incredible for the reason that there's seemingly little effort put into the animation with the random over-the-top sexual positions; the little bits in the feuding with Michael's parents, the mother with her Jewish-star knife-holster and the father with his dedication to the "Godfather", who eats little people in his pasta, over anything really with his family; and when Michael presents "religious" cartoons to a dying old man, which to any prurient Christian taste is hilariously offensive and, well, cool.

Bakshi is so personal at times, with his taste in color schemes, in over-lapping images with film clips, combining live-action and animation (usually with dancing ladies on one side and a lurid little twerp gawking on the other), and even likely real family photos from his own family laid in, that it levels going too far. There's a tendency for self-indulgence, however not always the bad kind, if that makes sense, and one can see how the film can and has been vehemently criticized for what it is really trying to criticize in the film. But deep down, past the creative madman in Bakshi, is also a heart; his film ends on a touching note, as abstraction turns real and a totally live scene reveals another level to Michael and Carol, as real outcasts who are both totally stubborn, and somehow meant for each other. Heavy Traffic is a one-of-a-kind affair, and the kind of under-the-radar act of an outrageous spectacle that it could only be done in the 70s. Grade: A-
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10/10
Genius
beastiebcw11 March 2004
This film is one you'll pretty much love or hate. I think to those who don't like it . . . either you're sensitive to the nudity, issues it covers, or other content material, or maybe you just don't understand it.

Sometimes confusion can lead to hatred. But the film is without a doubt visually stimulating. IMDB voters are giving it crap ratings, yet I agree with the people who give out star ratings, for this piece got 3.5 stars out of 4. And it deserves it. It's groundbreaking, and such a perfect posterchild for the 70s in terms of seedy animation and urban decay.

Well done Bakshi, well done.
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Artistic satire is often overlooked
ozzfan230 May 2004
A few previous critics of this work by Bakshi slam it for being "stereotypical" and thereby negative as a whole by implementing foul humor, language and at times even suggest that because it's a cartoon that it owes something to child-oriented animation. This is absolute pig swill. Bakshi's vision in Heavy Traffic is to present life on the streets as he knows it. His style is truly unique, overlaying animation onto real stills and film sequences to add to the New york flavor that exists throughout the film. An abusive Italian married to a worrying Jewish woman is part of our reality. Gays being abused and people having to worry about their jobs being taken by minority groups for less pay and benefits because they're more desperate than we are is part of our reality. Love regardless of skin color, and facing the consequences for it is SADLY part of our reality. By using animation, Bakshi is exercising his artistic abilities while setting it in times and themes he is familiar with. This film, along with the criminally banned Coonskin should be hailed as modern masterpieces not for their visual aspects, but for the truth lying beneath and his unabashed look at how life really is. Comparing this film to "Shrek" is like comparing the original Night of the Living Dead to the recent Dawn of the dead remake. Granted they're both horror, but they're lightyears apart and don't use any of the same effects techniques. One, like Heavy Traffic, was made for social commentary, whereas the remake, like Shrek, is merely for our homogenized entertainment values.
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10/10
What the* did I just see?
Vastarien20226 February 2008
I just finished watching this film, and I couldn't be more in awe. It's definitely one of the most bizarre pieces of true Art that I have seen in recent years, and yet the naked honesty is instantly resonant on a very deep level. This a a very dark look at one short period in a young artist's life in what seems to be New York. Ralph is not afraid to show the extreme in the ordinary, the sublime in the tragic, the sparkling filth that charges the air with horror and magic. This is our world, and his, with all the petty bitterness and hope that goes with it. I am saddened by those who say this film is garbage; I was at times horrified, laughing, moved, angered, and yet I emerged from the experience hopeful. I have rarely ever seen such a pure and rich depth of feeling as with this film. Ralph Bakshi is indeed a Master of our time, and the fact that he is still fairly obscure is a terrible waste. See this film, but keep the kids far away, it's rated R for a reason.
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5/10
Generally Disappointing
gavin69427 June 2013
An "underground" cartoonist contends with life in the inner city, where various unsavory characters serve as inspiration for his artwork.

Another reviewer said that people who review this film poorly are either offended by the nudity or just do not get it. The nudity (and blood) do not bother me in the slightest -- fill the screen with as many animated sex organs as you feel necessary, for all I care. On the second point, it is possible I do not get it.

While I understand the animation was innovative for its time and that the film shows urban decay -- both with cartoons and actual locations -- I cannot help but think that it just has not aged very well. Some scenes I found excellent (such as the God segment), while others were completely forgettable. It balanced out to be average at best.

The New York Times called it the "most original American film of the year." Could they look back now and say that again? I am not so sure.
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10/10
A creative animated masterpiece with human drama.
Preston-219 February 1999
Made after the X-Rated animated film, "Fritz the Cat," Ralph Bakshi's "Heavy Traffic" is considered to be his greatest work. Like all of Bakshi's films, it emerged amidst a storm of controversy due to its sexual and violent animated content. However, once the viewer gets beyond the shock of seeing an animated film with adult attitude, the symbolic details and creative genius of the work becomes apparent.

The film follows a young animator as he struggles to get out of his domestic situation, and to sell his films. The film is an extremely personal account of director Bakshi's own early life. As the story unfolds, the viewer sees the difficulties of growing up in an economically and socially depraved household, as well as in a racist environment. The main character struggles to find out who he is, and what he must do to free himself of all the restrictions around him. This is all a symbolic representation of Bakshi's own struggle to have his bold and adult natured animated films accepted among critics and the film world.

As for the creative efforts of the film, it is incredible and fascinating. Bakshi brilliantly meshes a wonderful musical soundtrack with all styles of creative animated symbolism, without losing its personal human touch. The end result is a creative animated masterpiece about growing up and becoming a free and confident adult, while challenging the contraints of society and the censors.
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6/10
Twisted and bizarre... NOT for the Kiddies!
Mr_Mirage27 July 2004
Heavy Traffic is everything you've heard it is... laced with some kind of bizzare sexual reference every other second (it seems) as well as totally insane violence, this brutal, bizarre and strangely sad film is worth one viewing, if for no other reason that to show that in the early '70's, Bakshi was pointing towards a concept of animated film that is only now hinted at.

I would suggest (okay, I AM suggesting) that a lot of Anime, and the useage of animated clips in both Natural Born Killers and Kill Bill (vol. I) point back to this particular film.

My take: watching the hero in "real time" is what the film is showing, with the animated bits being more inside of his head, until the end, where he is blown off by the beautiful woman that he dreams of, where we see one event that exists in his head (notice that it fails, but begins with an act of violence against the pinball machine, and also notice that the man playing with the artificial gunfighter is gunned down while a man >?< is getting naked in the photo booth) and another that ends with a sense that in a few seconds the Mary Tyler Moore theme song is going to begin.

What is real? Well, in the head of someone that creates movies held by the only boundries made inside one's own head, it is a pointless question...
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10/10
Excellent
haildevilman30 March 2006
R.B.'s best by far. I'm wondering how much of this is autobiographical. The only question being if it's 100% or not.

Great characters. Seemed like more kept getting introduced then brushed off. It's like everyone knows everyone.

Not for people squeamish about un-P.C. humor here. Every race took a few hits in the 'stereotyping' department. I think R.B. just tried to make fun of all of them.

Mobbed-up Italians, Guilt-ridden (and inducing) Jews, uptight whites, flaming gays, and Jive-talking blacks. And the lead character's J.D. friends trying to hook him up.

And did anyone notice the vintage strip show playing in the background during the bar scene? Looked like it was from the 1940's.

Great film.
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9/10
A Lost Animated Gem
Anthony Iessi5 March 2013
Heavy Traffic is only known by the hardcore Ralph Bakshi fan base and the occasional art house folk, but not by much else. Its probably due to its notorious stamp of an X rating and its inclusion of countless ethnic stereotypes that led to its obscurity. Don't be fooled, this is not a porno. It was only given the rating due to its raunchy humor, which back in 1973 was considered too edgy for the masses. It's no different than what Family Guy is doing now on network television. As far as the racism is concerned, it's brutal, but outdated. Every ethnic person In the film represents a familiar joke or stereotype of the time. Now, the movie itself is a triumph. Truly an underestimated piece of artistic genius from one of the greatest minds that has ever drawn a cartoon. Ralph pours his culture, anger, sadness, laughter and happiness into every frame of this film. Almost to a biographic extent. He considers it his favorite project, and its obvious why. From the music, to the animation, Heavy Traffic proves that its more than a cartoon, but a microcosm of urban life in the cruelest decade to live in it. If you can get past it's lack of political correctness, it's a great flick.
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