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Street Fight is a brilliant piece of brutal satire. This is not a movie
you just watch for fun. It is not a comfortable experience, although it
does have some laugh-out-loud moments. This is a movie you watch when
you need food for thought.
To dismiss this film as simply racist is to miss the point entirely. This is not only a satire of Song of the South, it's also a biting commentary on the prejudices that Americans still have as a society. Every ethnic group portrayed in the movie gets shown as grotesque caricatures of their stereotypes, which in turn are grotesque caricatures of real people. Through this wild exaggeration, the filmmaker shows just how absurd these tightly-held beliefs really are.
If you're the sort of person who's willing to acknowledge the ugliness of the prevalent prejudices American culture still holds, and if you're not afraid to look your own prejudices in the eye, this movie may be for you.
One of the most interesting movies to be classified as "blaxploitation,"
Bakshi's "Coonskin" is a rich text full of wonderful insight. He wrote it in
collaboration with Scat Man Crothers and Barry White, who appear in the film
as well. The racist imagery can often be disturbing, but the message of the
movie was so powerful that the NAACP gave it an endorsement (but only
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in an examination of the pervading atmosphere of racism that Bakshi attempts to deconstruct. Wonderful stuff.
I had watched this film from Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, Hey Good Lookin',
etc.), one night ago on www.afrovideo.org, and I didn't see anything
racial. Well, I do admit the character designs are a bit crude and
unaccpectable today, but I think it's a satire and a very, very urban
retelling of the old Uncle Remus stories that the Black American
culture, created right down to the main characters and the blatant nod
to "The Tar Baby" and "The Briar Patch." These aren't bigoted stories,
mind you, but cultural icons created by Black Americans, and me being a
white woman read and love those stories. And I also found it an
interesting time-capsule view on the black culture in Harlem, New York
in the 70's.
Well to get to the nitty-gritty of this film: This film is a live-action/animated film, which begins in live-action with a fellow named Sampson and the Preacherman rush to help their friend, Randy escape from prison, but are stopped by a roadblock and wind up in a shootout with the police. While waiting for them, Randy unwillingly listens to fellow escapee Pappy, as he begins to tell Randy the animated story of Brother Rabbit, a young newcomer to the big city who quickly rises from obscurity to rule over all of Harlem. You know, to me Rabbit,Bear and Fox are animal versions of Randy,Sampson and the Preacherman. An abstract juxtaposition of stylized animation and live action footage, the film is a graphic and condemnatory satire of stereotypes prevalent in the 70s racial, ethnic, and otherwise.
So anyway, it is another good Bakshi movie. And should we sweep films like this under the rug? pretend they never exist? I think that would be a shame. I think we should watch these films entacted, and learn about what goes on back then, just how far we come since then.
"WARNING: This movie offends EVERYBODY!"
That was what the cover of the first video release of this tape I ever saw said right on the front.
I first learned about this one over ten years ago, and was determined for the longest time to not see it. Being a sensitive animation viewer, I was positive that it would only upset me with offensive stereotypes and ugly pictures. But after recently learning that Ralph Bakshi had had nothing but the best of intentions when he created this film, curiosity finally overpowered me and I decided to rent it simply because I was curious to see what Bakshi really was attempting to say. If he had stated that he had made it merely as a sarcastic and mean racist statement against African Americans, especially since I am proud to say that I am one of the only two white members of a wonderful all-black church filled with beautiful and kind people who have shown me nothing but the most wonderful love and respect I have ever known, I would ***NEVER*** have watched it.
I was familiar with all of Bakshi's other works by then, many which I found unsettling, to say the least. Bakshi's biggest scream of pain that I had encountered up to that time was "Heavy Traffic", which had been to me his loudest and most disturbing contribution to the industry. The only thing I knew for certain about THIS film was that it had CAUSED a scream of its own, being picketed and disowned by Paramount almost immediately.
So what was my personal reaction to it?
Well, first let me start by saying that this is easily the angriest animated film I have ever seen in my entire life.
And believe me, I've seen hundreds of them from all over the world. I've seen all sorts of outraged statements on all sorts of subjects from the simple to the profound, but I have NEVER, EVER seen anything even remotely APPROACHING the sheer frothing-at-the-mouth disgust that emotionally bleeds off the screen here. Animation has caused joy, laughing, sorrow, concern and even grief, but very rarely can they cause rage towards a particular problem in the way this one does. As a result, it blares across your mind like an ambulance siren. I guarantee you right now that if you should ever choose to do what I finally did-- to prepare yourself the best you can emotionally and watch this film--I hereby guarantee you that you will never forget the experience.
It's very rare that a movie has the power to affect us so strongly. When I first saw "Heavy Traffic" in 1991, I found myself shrinking in my chair shaking because of all the powerful suggestions that Bakshi was showing me--all of his convincing arguments of what it can really be like to live in today's world for those less fortunate than myself. He was showing me how ugly and brutal an everyday existance could really be in the city, something which I had never known because I was born and raised in a polite suburb of the bay area where neighbors all got along cheerfully and everybody was innocently colorblind of each other's skin tones. While watching "Coonskin", I was shrinking in my chair shaking even worse--but this time it wasn't from the convincing arguments Bakshi was showing me, it was from the raw, ugly, horrifying attack that my senses were being assaulted with. Bakshi doesn't use metaphor or mere words here as he did in "Heavy Traffic", here he is instead more in-your-face that you could possibly imagine. This is a film that refuses to be ignored. It doesn't just drift by like most entertainment does on the TV, it grabs you and sinks its teeth into your throat.
Next, let me talk about the character design. The movie has, as has been pointed out by many out there, some of the most chilling animated sequences ever created here. I was repulsed and nauseated by the horrific looks of the characters. It's an all-too-powerful reminder of just how African Americans have been drawn and portrayed by Hollywood in the past, and that's exactly what it's meant to be--Bakshi exaggerates already-exaggerated stereotypes so strongly that he shows even the stonehearted just how cruel it really is.
But around midway into the film, I discovered something--EVERYBODY is drawn this way, not just the African American characters! For example, I had first gasped in horror at "bottle-shaped" heads of the women characters here because I had thought that the shape was meant to be a cruel and grotesque "parody" of the African skull's natural shape. But then I later encountered white boys with THE EXACT SAME DESIGNS! In other words, NOBODY gets out of this film in one piece--but the MOST horrifying design of all here, one so hideous that he singlehandedly makes all the others in this movie look gentle and affectionate in his shadow, is the ITALIAN GODFATHER! When I saw him, I nearly lost my stomach he was so horrendous. I'm serious, I was positive I was going to throw up. For Pete's sake, he even makes Jabba The Hut look downright cuddly! Even the most "normally designed" character, Miss America, is so obviously a symbol of ugliness that has haunted the USA that she comes across as disgusting and a plague to our country.
The main three though (Rabbit, Fox and Bear) gave me a different reaction: Rabbit I thought looked cool except for those awful exaggerated lips (but I wish to state that he looks absolutely tame compared to other characters you encounter later on), Fox looked alright although I kept wondering where his tail and ears were, and Bear...I liked his appearance the most. His looks genuinely flattering and gives a great impression of a well-meaning "loveable lunk" guy (and I don't mean in the stupid Archie comic "Moose" sense either). Unlike all the others, he would have looked outstanding in any cartoon. All three were genuinely likeable characters who had gotten themselves into far worse trouble than they were prepared for.
The voice talent behind all three was absolutely spectacular. Philip Michael Thomas has such a--there's no other word for it--COOL speaking voice that he fuses Rabbit with a slickness and attitude reserved only for the best cartoon characters. Charles Gordone is a natural match for Fox and sounds like he had a lot of fun voicing his part in quite a few scenes, and Bear is voiced by one of my all-time favorite talents, Barry White! In a way, it was good for me personally that White was in the film as one of the "heroes" here because his familiar deep voice which has always sounded so gentle in his wonderful music gave me a comforting little something from my own life--a mental "security blanket" to hold on to during the movie, if you will--that helped a bit to cushion the concussive force of this film.
And that was a good thing for me. I actually started to cry watching this film. It upsets and enrages you so much with the sheer injustice and cruelty that is prejudice that I couldn't help but break down as I watched it (it also made me more thankful than ever that my OWN family's relatives came to America AFTER slavery was done away with, so I can honestly say MY family had nothing to do with any of that!).
This is, in short, a film that is meant to be seen by bigoted people who hate others just because of race--that is the film's target after all. Bakshi obviously never intended for his film to be yelling at an audience already on his side concerning this issue.
But even though this is a movie I would never personally buy or want to watch again, I have to tell you: for what it's created to be, this is an excellent movie. It succeeds all too well in delivering its message, and the creepy visuals make it all the more effective (I have the feeling that people would have been less offended if the characters had been drawn like, for example, the appealing character designs of Filmation's "Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids" instead of the nightmarish ones we see here). Why is it so extreme? Well, that's because this is a movie made in sheer justifiable rage, and that's not the sort of emotion you can keep carefully under control very well when art is concerned.
The movie has forms of icy attempts at gags which are so sharp and revealing that (for somebody like myself) they seem more an example of daring rather than good judgement. That's not meant to be a criticism towards anyone who does find it hilarious, as I know people out there do, but I didn't laugh much. But that's only because I found the film so strong and vicious that I couldn't laugh. The few scenes where I really did laugh came out of the few traditionally cartoony gags that added fun personality to the three main characters, such as the scene where Fox almost carries off the tombstone from the graveyard ("Put him back, Fox!") and the clever tar baby sequence.
As for the animation itself, its movement and craft are superb. No matter what one's opinion of everything else here, one is still forced to admire the skill in putting it together.
While a part of me is relieved to see someone attempt to make such a powerful statement about such a terrible wrong, at the same time I can't really recommend the film. I doubt very much I would ever recommend this film to anyone...except to some jerk I might encounter someday who loves to badmouth people of other races. I personally doubt I would ever watch it again because I didn't "enjoy" it or "like" it but very much admire what it attempts to do all the same. And even if one attempts to put all the most controversial elements of it aside, it *still* carries a huge weight of violence and profanity guaranteed to offend a lot of viewers. But even so, it is a strong and bold movie. One that deserves applause for pointing out injustice.
Streetfight (aka Coonskin) is a very unique film directed by animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi. It is an oddity of the cinema, and is very much worth seeing. It is live action mixed with animation, seemingly influenced on Disney's legendary Song of the South, almost as if it is a response to that flick. Philip Michael Thomas, later to become Don Johnson's sidekick on Miami Vice, and Scatman Crothers, most famous for his role in Kubrick's The Shining, are prison escapees. Charles Gordone and Barry White (yes, that Barry White) are Thomas' friends and plan to help him escape prison. They are stuck at a police roadblock, and Crothers tells Thomas a story about a black rabbit, a bear, and a fox who move from the South to Harlem in order to find a more peaceful existence. The story is animated, and provides a lot of wonderous things to see. Like all of Bakshi's films, most will be annoyed and will dislike the animation. True animation lovers will forgive its clunkiness and fall in love with its inventiveness. The movie is very violent, very sexual, and it is mostly about battles between the races. For a long time, I thought I was watching something extremely important, but after a while, especially after I got done watching it, it started to seem more like a run-of-the-mill blacksploitation flick, along the lines of Superfly. It's very sloppy and doesn't really say anything. Besides, isn't Bakshi white? Whatever the answer to that, Coonskin/Streetfight is still very much worth watching for animation aficionados as well as cult movie fans. 7/10.
by Dane Youssef
"Coonskin" is film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satirical indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.
But this is a Bakshi film, controversial, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...
Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Coonskin" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Coonskin" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.
The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.
"Coonskin" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Coonskin" world alone makes it old-fashioned.
One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means necessary. The Itallian mob is running all the real action.
Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.
The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulful black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.
Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "sublety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.
Bakshi is god-dammed merciless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.
The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.
Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is black-face is gratuitously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.
Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.
Somehow, this one feels inevitably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).
Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter what f--king ear it is. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.
Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (junglebunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these "dirty n-----s" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.
The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.
The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.
You have been warned...
--Happy Viewing, Dane Youssef
Coonskin might be my favorite Ralph Bakshi film. Like the best of his
work, it's in-your-face and not ashamed of it for a second, but unlike
some of his other work (even when he's at his finest, which was before
and after Coonskin with Heavy Traffic and Wizards), it's not much
uneven, despite appearances to the contrary. Bakshi's taking on
stereotypes and perceptions of race, of course, but moreover he's
making what appears to be a freewheeling exploitation film;
blaxploitation almost, though Bakshi doesn't stop just there. If it
were just a blaxploitation flick with inventive animation it could be
enough for a substantial feature. But Bakshi's aims are higher:
throwing up these grotesque and exaggerated images of not just black
people but Italians/mafioso, homosexuals, Jews, overall New York-types
in the urban quarters of Manhattan in the 70s, he isn't out to make
anything realistic. The most normal looking creation in looking drawn
"real" is, in fact, a naked woman painted red, white and blue.
In mocking these stereotypes and conventions and horrible forms of racism (i.e. the "tar-rabbit, baby" joke, yes joke, plus black-face), we're looking at abstraction to a grand degree. And best of all, Bakshi doesn't take himself too seriously, unlike Spike Lee with a film like Bamboozled, in delivering his message. This is why, for the most part, Coonskin is a hilarious piece of work, where some of the images and things done and sudden twists and, of course, scenes of awkward behavior (I loved the scene where the three animated characters are being talked at by the real-life white couple in tux and dress as looking "colorful" and the like), are just too much not to laugh at. It's not just the imagery, which is in and of itself incredibly "over"-stylized, but that the screenplay is sharp and, this is key for Bakshi this time considering, it's got a fairly cohesive narrative to string along the improvisations and madness.
Using at first live-action, then animation, and then an extremely clever matching of the two (ironically, what Bakshi later went for in commercial form with Cool World is done here to a T with less money and a rougher edge), Pappy and Randy are waiting outside a prison wall for a buddy to escape, and Pappy tells of the story of Brother Rabbit, who with Brother Bear and Preacher Fox go to Harlem and become big-time hoodlums, with Rabbit in direct opposition to a Jabba-the-Hut-esquire Godfather character. This is obviously a take off on Song of the South with its intentionally happy-go-lucky plot and animation, here taken apart and shown for how rotten and offensive it really is.
Yet Bakshi goes for broke in combining forms; animated characters stand behind and move along with live-action backgrounds; when violence and gunshots and fights occurs it's as bloody as it can get for 1975; when a dirty cop is at a bar and is drugged and put in black-face and a dress, he trips in a manner of which not even Disney could reach with Dumbo; a boxing match with Brother Bear and an opponent as the climax is filmed in wild slow-motion; archive footage comes on from time to time of old movies, some and some from the 20s that are just tasteless.
Like Mel Brooks or Kubrick or, more recently, South Park, Bakshi's Coonskin functions as entertainment first and then thought-provocation second. It's also audacious film-making on an independent scale; everything from the long takes to the montage and the endlessly warped designs for the characters (however all based on the theme of the piece) all serve the thought in the script, where its B-movie plot opens up much more for interpretation. To call it racist misses the point; it's like calling Dr. Strangelove pro-atomic desolation or Confederate States of America pro slavery. And, for me, it's one of the best satires ever made.
After finally watching Walt Disney's Song of the South on myspace, I decided to watch Ralph Bakshi's response to that movie-Coonskin-on Afro Video which I linked from Google Video. In this one, during the live-action sequences, Preacherman (Charles Gordone) takes his friend Sampson (Barry White) with him to pick up Pappy (Scatman Crothers) and Randy (Philip Thomas, years before he added Michael for his middle name professionally) as the latter two escape from prison. During their attempt, Pappy tells Randy a tale of Brother Rabbit (voice of Thomas), Brother Bear (White), and Preacher Fox (Gordone) and their adventures in Harlem. As expected in many of these Bakshi efforts, there's a mix of animation and live-action that provides a unique point-of-view from the writer/director that is sure to offend some people. Another fascinating animated character is Miss America who's a big-as in gigantic in every way-white blonde woman dressed in skin-tight red, white, and blue stars and stripes who has a hold on a little black man and has him shot in one of the most sexually violent ways that was shockingly funny to me! There are plenty of such scenes sprinkled throughout the picture of which another one concerning Brother Bear's frontal anatomy also provided big laughs from me. There's also a segment of a woman telling her baby of a "cockroach" she was friends with who left her that was touching with that part seeming to be a tribute to the comic strip artist George Herriman. I was also fascinated hearing Grover Washington Jr.'s version of "Ain't No Sunshine" heard as part of the score. Most compelling part of the picture was seeing the Scatman himself depicted with his head in silhouette during the opening credit sequence singing and scatting to a song that has him using the N-word in a satirical way. When I saw a VHS cover of this movie years ago, it had depicted Brother Rabbit in insolent mode in front of what looked like the Warner circles with the slogan, "This movie will offend EVERYBODY". That is ample warning to anyone who thinks all cartoons are meant for children. That said, I definitely recommend Coonskin to fans of Bakshi and of every form of animation.
Coonskin has been dragged into the darkest realms of cinematic obscurity. When it was released in 1975, people panicked. Not since the 1940's has such racially insensitive jokes been made on African Americans. CORE and the NAACP screamed for blood and demanded this film to never be released, or shown to anyone for that matter. Leading Paramount Pictures to drop this movie from its original distribution and was forced to be shown in Grindhouse theaters nationwide and distributed by a mafioso production company. How devastatingly ironic, because this film HATES the mafia. Perhaps it was due to its off putting title. But I think more importantly, it was its trailer. The film's theatrical trailer is one of the most surreal, unholy debaucheries of a motion picture you will ever see. Just a bunch of scenes (some of which are pivotal to the plot of the film) thrown aimlessly together without any explanation of what the movie could be about. Of course, people speculated the worst from this film. But it wasn't what anyone thought it was. Coonskin is an absolute trip. It' points out the sad, painful truth about racism as we know it and threw it in our faces whether we could handle it or not. If anything, it advocates for the good of African Americans and slanders everyone that took advantage of it. It's a tale about three brothers, losing their way in the slums of Manhattan, as they try to get back at the "man". It's classic blaxploitation fare with a tendency for screwing with the audience and shocking them with the cold hard truth. Ralph worked his hardest with this film and insisted on making this his masterpiece, and it shows with explosive results. I loved the characters. The three brothers are dangerously cool, especially Brother Rabbit. Miss America is without a doubt the sexiest animated woman ever drawn. Unfortunately, she represents everything bloated, superficial, perverted and wrong with America. Which makes her a wickedly evil villain. The main villain, the Godfather was a little hard to swallow being Italian and all. But the Mafia was just begging for a Hollywood beating, and Bakshi let them have it. If I was to sum up Coonskin in one sentence, I would call it the Pulp Fiction of animation. It has the same level of genius and wit as that movie did, and will grow on you for an awfully long time. It's too bad not many people will ever see it. Hopefully, a home video release will finally surface in the future, and we can all celebrate this controversial classic.
I had heard much about Coonskin, mostly good, though I do know a fair few who were offended by it. Seeing this film, I can see why Coonskin won't appeal to all, due to its very gritty subject matter(racism) and the fact it is stereotypical. However, I loved this movie surprisingly and consider it one of Bakshi's better films alongside American Pop and Heavy Traffic. The visuals are wonderful, the blend of animation and live action is very clever, and some of the images are brutal but often fascinating. The music is equally great, especially the opening title sequence. The satire really does bite and hit you hard, while the story is rich and multi-layered with lots of insight(correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think Bakshi has done anything as ambitious as Coonskin before). The voice acting adds a lot, in particular from Scatman Brothers and the resonant, deep voice of Barry White. All in all, Coonskin is not for all tastes, but I loved it, and appreciate it for its biting satire and its take on a very gritty and perhaps controversial subject. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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