It's a Ralph Bakshi film that he completed both in 1975 and 1982. Warner Brothers shelved his original version, so Bakshi remade it over the next five years, without being paid.
Bakshi had planned to combine live-action and animation to a greater degree than he'd ever done before. Imagine Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but with a story about violent 1950s hoodlums who think of nothing but fighting, trash-talking each other and chasing girls. Four animated characters (Vinnie, Rozzi, Crazy and Eva) would have been living in a live-action world. What's more, he did it. It almost drove him crazy trying to make it work, but he did it. The optical effect that was required to achieve it was bigger than the film's budget, so Bakshi and his cameraman came up with a glass-projection trick that was essentially rotoscoping.
So he made his film. He didn't stop halfway or anything like that. He had a finished film, with a release date of Christmas 1975 and a three-minute trailer that was shown at Cannes. Unfortunately this was the time of the Coonskin
controversy, so a jittery Warner Bros. pushed the film back to 1976 and then 1977, before eventually postponing it indefinitely. They claimed that the film was "unreleasable" because of its combination of live-action and animation and that it needed to be "fine-tuned". So Bakshi went off and spent half a decade doing it all again. To quote the man... "And it was a horrible experience starting the film from scratch. First of all, I had to finish it or be sued by Warner Bros. They said the film wasn't working and that I basically had not fulfilled my contractual obligations. They threw a lot of stuff at me, claiming that I used more live action than I said I would. We had this big meeting in Frank Wells's office. My lawyer talked them out of suing me. I was a very young filmmaker at the time, and to have a corporate giant against you is not easy!"
What's interesting here is that the original version of the movie might, possibly, still exist. Warners might have kept a copy. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has a copy of the three-minute Cannes promo. Bakshi's wife preferred it to the all-animated version, incidentally. "She says it was more cohesive and it had more stuff than the '82 Lookin', since we threw it together with a few bucks." It's also a very different movie, although the breakdancing is still here, but rotoscoped. Bakshi even re-recorded new dialogue.
One last Bakshi quote, this time regarding the 1982 cut. "They only threw it out in a couple of cities with very little or no advertising. It played for a few weeks. Even after finally finishing it five, eight years later, I still I had no time to refine anything. Because I lived up to my contractual obligations. My attitude was, 'Here's your fucking movie.' Nor was I absolutely sure they'd ever release it. Even when I finished. And that was that. The story was over. I really don't know what kind of film it was in the end, because I was so disgusted with the whole situation. I'm not saying it was some of my best work or that it would've made them a gazillion dollars. I have no way of knowing that. But I didn't make a film that gritty again. I moved onto Wizards
. Fire and Ice
. Slick shit like American Pop
. So what I'm saying is... I was finished. They killed me."
All that said, the Hey Good Lookin' I watched this morning is pretty good.
It's been compared to Scorsese's Mean Streets. Tarantino says he even prefers it to Mean Streets, but Tarantino says a lot of things. He prefers Psycho 2 to Psycho. We begin with a couple of broken-down, rather sad-looking characters who meet on a street. One looks like an elderly prostitute. The man gives her a piece of black cloth and she starts crying.
That's the framing story. The real movie takes place in 1957. Vinnie Genzianna looks like a well-groomed chimp and is a hoodlum who takes pains over his appearance. We first meet him testing the boundaries of narcissism with his hair and zips, which later in the movie becomes twice as funny when he's doing the same while theoretically trying to make a quick getaway. Meanwhile his friend Crazy Shapiro looks like a buck-toothed inbred red-headed version of the Joker and is an idiot. They're: (a) best friends, and (b) trouble. Crazy Shapiro's dad tries to kill him, which seems reasonable. There's nothing intelligent or planned about their adventures, which means that watching this movie is like watching headless chickens driving into a wall in slow-motion.
However these are macho chickens. They hit each other all the time and start gang fights. They strut and swagger. Vinnie in particularly has a lovingly nurtured self-image as a man's man, the world's baddest gang leader. He also "never pays for it", which is important.
This doesn't make for a likeable film, or one in which you care in the slightest about Vinnie and Crazy. However it's strong. Both are great characters, full of extreme behaviour. I laughed at Crazy shrinking at "Jewish guys look like you." (He's telling the truth about Tony Curtis, incidentally.) It's certainly very Bakshi, in which yet again he's breaking his back trying to show us the world he used to see on the streets. Besides, Vinnie and Crazy's lives are, to put it mildly, eventful.
The aesthetic is wonderful. I love the artwork, with amazing ugly people and a ton of energy and ideas. Drawing Crazy Shapiro in particular must have been so much fun. What on Earth was his hallucination sequence? I loved the surrealism of the hero-worshipping dwarves, while the gang members are funny too. Putting out a cigarette on their friend's hand, lighting their farts... these are people who make Vinnie and Crazy look like leaders, basically.
Way cooler even than the artwork though is the soundtrack, which has its own wikipedia page. It's a kick-arse mix of 1950s and 1980s rock and it seems inconceivable to me that it didn't get an album release until 2006. There had been an online petition.
On top of all that, though, I like the themes. The film's all about being macho, which is largely defined as fighting. Vinnie spends most of the movie heading for the nearest fight and would have probably killed anyone who called him a coward or a loser... but by the end, the movie has turned all that on its head and is subverting machismo as hard and as violently as it can. Vinnie turns into that coward I was talking about. A loser? Yup, he's one of those too. Again this isn't particularly comfortable viewing, but it's not as if we'd ever been particularly close to him and it's cool to watch Bakshi systematically demolishing all the badass cliches his characters have been living by.
Then, once all honour has been crushed like a worm, we return to the framing story. The sexiest characters in the film having got old and fat, or else now look like zombies. Note also that the women have bought into these myths just as hard as the men. "You guys are so great. Brave and strong."
This is a rough film, but it's also exploding with life all the way through. It concludes a street trilogy with Heavy Traffic
and I think it's their equal in every way that matters, although of course the nightmare of its production made it the end of an era for Bakshi. Great boobs, by the way. Who do I write to at Warners to get a DVD release of the 1975 version?
"You're going to have to fight him. Be a man."