Home Video Hovel: Heavy Traffic, by Scott Nye
As more traditional, family-friendly cartoons have been reevaluated over the years, and the Looney Tunes shorts, Disney features, and – more recently – everything from Pixar to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs been deemed just as much fun for adults as for children, the subgenre of “adult animation” has consequently taken something of a hit. While its most ardent supporters, clogging up the front of the line at alt-cinemas the world over, will still passionately extol the virtues of Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay to anyone with a particularly long minute to spare, the days of savvy couples hitting up slightly risque matinees seem to have died with the advent (and privacy) of broadband. Which is a shame, because Heavy Traffic has a lot more to offer than a mere sexual romp – while filmmaker Ralph Bakshi recognizes that sex is one (major) part of his view of the world, it is only one. Race, ethnicity, family, class, career, ambition, and neighborhood relations collide to create the rest.
Saddling us with a 24-year-old virgin cartoonist as its protagonist is a tall order, and one quickly gets the impression that Michael Corleone (can’t find background on this name choice, but The Godfather was published around the same time Bakshi was reportedly conceiving Heavy Traffic) is very closely based on the life and personality of its creator. This suits the film, a personal and defined look at a very twisted time in New York’s history, the kind of nightmare version of the city that was so fervently wrought by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and William Friedkin. Rather than focus on the criminal element – though violence does play a factor – Bashki’s New York doesn’t seem as though it was a great city invaded by an unsavory element, but rotten from the inside, and the people an expression of that rot. Not that the people are bad people, but they’re broken in various ways that are born out of the city in which they were brought up. It’s a look at how institutions keep people down, without hardly ever addressing the institutions themselves.
It’s also just damn exciting animation, with Bakshi gleefully running with his perceived ability to get away with anything, with his style as well as his content. Scenes and people seem to constantly reshape before our very eyes, reinforcing the city as a forever malleable mishmash of indistinguishable bodies, vehicles, sounds, and lights. Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release brings this vivid imagination to a great Blu-ray transfer, one that definitely aims to replicate the finished version, as it’s projected, rather than as it’s photographed (being an animated film, the grain of celluloid is not an inherent factor, but is present here). Color is very attractive, bold without being overwhelming. Aside from the complete lack of special features, this is an easy one to recommend, especially at its attractive price point.