Heavy Traffic (1973)

X | 76 or 78 mins | Drama, Experimental | August 1973

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HISTORY

The onscreen credit for Oaktree Productions reads "New York Production--live." The opening credits begin, in live-action, with the slow-motion insertion of a quarter into a pinball machine. As the song “Scarborough Fair” plays, “Michael Corleone” plays pinball and wonders in voice-over what makes him happy and what makes him hide. After the title and producer and director credits, the film shifts to animation with a scene of two African-American street hoboes. The animated Michael is not introduced until several scenes later. Close-up shots of the live-action pinball machine are used throughout the film as a transitional device between passages. The final sequence, after the cartoon Michael is killed, is again fully live-action and without dialogue, as Michael meets “Carole” on the streets of New York and convinces her of his love. A possible suggestion of the ending is that the live Michael imagined the entire animated film.
       Director Ralph Bakshi used a mélange of animation styles and techniques in Heavy Traffic . While Michael is drawn in traditional cartoon style, the other characters are grotesques, their faces sometimes resembling animals. Throughout the mostly animated film, flashes of live-action scenes are glimpsed, and at times the animated story plays out against a live-action background. Infared photography, back-projection imagery, slow-motion, black-and-white still photographs, fantasy sequences and footage from old movies, among other special effects, are mixed into the animation. In addition, as with Bakshi’s previous feature, Fritz the Cat (1972, see above), Heavy Traffic incorporates nudity, sexual content and violence.
       The film includes a lengthy clip from the 1932 film Red Dust with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (see below) and portions of ... More Less

The onscreen credit for Oaktree Productions reads "New York Production--live." The opening credits begin, in live-action, with the slow-motion insertion of a quarter into a pinball machine. As the song “Scarborough Fair” plays, “Michael Corleone” plays pinball and wonders in voice-over what makes him happy and what makes him hide. After the title and producer and director credits, the film shifts to animation with a scene of two African-American street hoboes. The animated Michael is not introduced until several scenes later. Close-up shots of the live-action pinball machine are used throughout the film as a transitional device between passages. The final sequence, after the cartoon Michael is killed, is again fully live-action and without dialogue, as Michael meets “Carole” on the streets of New York and convinces her of his love. A possible suggestion of the ending is that the live Michael imagined the entire animated film.
       Director Ralph Bakshi used a mélange of animation styles and techniques in Heavy Traffic . While Michael is drawn in traditional cartoon style, the other characters are grotesques, their faces sometimes resembling animals. Throughout the mostly animated film, flashes of live-action scenes are glimpsed, and at times the animated story plays out against a live-action background. Infared photography, back-projection imagery, slow-motion, black-and-white still photographs, fantasy sequences and footage from old movies, among other special effects, are mixed into the animation. In addition, as with Bakshi’s previous feature, Fritz the Cat (1972, see above), Heavy Traffic incorporates nudity, sexual content and violence.
       The film includes a lengthy clip from the 1932 film Red Dust with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (see below) and portions of a dance sequence, in which the dancers use glowing red hoops, from the 1943 Busby Berkeley musical The Gang’s All Here (see above). One shot echoes the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks , with Michael and Carole appearing as two of the diner patrons. During the scene in which “Angelo” visits the Godfather, the Godfather eats spaghetti continually, his mouth in tight close-up, unperturbed as an enemy repeatedly shoots him. When Michael is killed, the bullet is shown flying through the air and entering his head in slow-motion, followed by a montage of sinister, scatological, murderous and religious images in black-and-white with flashes of red.
       Heavy Traffic is partially biographical, and Bakshi stated in a 1977 interview that the film was meant to be intensely personal and autobiographical, even if many of the details and characters were pastiches. Bakshi was born in the poverty-stricken town of Brownsville, in Brooklyn. The character of Michael Corleone, whose name is the same as the character portrayed by Al Pacino in The Godfather (1972, see above), resembles the director, and the family portraits seen in the film were Bakshi’s own.
       With Heavy Traffic , Fritz the Cat and other films, Bakshi hoped to break boundaries with the film, creating a gritty, new direction for animation, which had heretofore been used mainly in the service of whimsy and children’s tales. He declared in an Aug 1973 Time article that he planned to revolutionize the animation field in the same way that his young contemporaries were reinventing the Hollywood film, by cutting down budgets and maintaining independent artistic control.
       Bakshi stated in an interview conducted in 1977 that he wanted Heavy Traffic to be “closer to a film than a cartoon.” To that end, he stressed honesty and stark realism in the story and imagery. As he had stated in an Aug 1973 Newsweek article, he did not set out to offend people, merely to reflect emotional truths and to illustrate societal stereotypes and attitudes.
       Although a Feb 1972 DV news item reported that Heavy Traffic was to be based on Hubert Selby’s novel Last Exit to Brooklyn , an Oct 1972 news item in Var stated that that deal had fallen through and that the script would now be an original. The Box review noted that American International bought the rights to Heavy Traffic after the success of Fritz the Cat . This deal afforded Bakshi and his partner, producer Steve Krantz, near-total control of the project.
       Bakshi’s website provides the following information about the production: While working on Heavy Traffic , Bakshi met Albert S. Ruddy and, after opening Bakshi Productions, began collaborating with him on a film called Coonskin (1975). When Krantz learned of the partnership, he locked Bakshi out of the studios, but two weeks later asked him to return. After this rift, Bakshi never again worked with Krantz.
       In Jul 1980, a DV news item reported that Bakshi filed suit against Krantz’s company, asking for an accounting of the profits and an unspecified amount in damages from Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic , claiming that his contract called for a ten percent cut of the profits and the last payment he had received was in Jun 1978.
       According to the Box review, the film cost under $1 million, and took eight months to complete, an unusually quick schedule for an animated picture. As noted in an Aug 1973 Time article, many of the animators on staff were veterans culled from recently failed animation departments throughout Hollywood. Modern sources add the voice of Walt Gorney to the cast.
       While the film garnered mixed reviews in general, some hailed it as revolutionary. The HR reviewer called it “a true exorcism of demonic energy into an hypnotic, life-giving experience” and the LAT critic deemed it “a further leaping step forward for American animation.” Upon its screening in New York’s First Animated Film Festival in Jan 1974, the film won Best Feature Film awards voted on by both audience members and the international jury.
       In Aug 1973, after the X rating was announced, Museum of Modern Art film department director Willard Van Dyke scheduled an immediate tribute screening in order to encourage “the creation of a brilliant talent,” as noted in an Aug 1973 HR article. Bakshi stated his frustration with the X rating, which previously had been given to his Fritz the Cat , in the Aug 1973 Newsweek article, noting that the rating kept him from promoting the film on television talk shows. In addition, the film was banned in Edmonton, Canada, as noted in a Dec 1973 Var news item. After being re-edited in 1974, Heavy Traffic ’s X rating was changed by the MPAA to an R. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Aug 1973
p. 4618.
Daily Variety
25 Feb 1972.
---
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1973.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jul 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1973
p. 3, 10.
Los Angeles Times
9 Aug 1973.
---
New York Times
9 Aug 1973
p. 30.
Newsweek
27 Aug 1973
p. 87.
Rolling Stone
27 Sep 1973.
---
Time
27 Aug 1973
p. 50.
Variety
11 Oct 1972.
---
Variety
25 Jul 1973
p. 7.
Variety
19 Dec 1973.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Steve Krantz Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Characters created by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cine
Background photog
Background photog
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Negative cutter
MUSIC
Mus supv
Orch cond
Orig score comp and arr
Orig score comp and arr
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Title layouts
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
New York Production--live
Prod mgr
Prod coord
Prod coord for the dir
ANIMATION
Backgrounds drawn by
Background artist
Background artist
Background assisting
Background assisting
Fantasy anim
Anim
Anim
Anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Asst anim
Col models
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Ink & paint
Final checking
Final checking
Final checking
Final checking
Anim checking
Anim checking
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Scarborough Fair" by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, composition courtesy Charing Cross Music
"Take Five" by Paul Desmond, performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, courtesy Columbia Records
"Le Quattro Stagnioni, Opus 8, Nos. 1-4 ( The Four Seasons )" by Antonio Vivaldi
+
MUSIC
"Scarborough Fair" by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, composition courtesy Charing Cross Music
"Take Five" by Paul Desmond, performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, courtesy Columbia Records
"Le Quattro Stagnioni, Opus 8, Nos. 1-4 ( The Four Seasons )" by Antonio Vivaldi
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
+
SONGS
"Scarborough Fair," words and music by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, performed by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '77, courtesy A&M Records
"Maybelline," words and music by Chuck Berry, performed by Chuck Berry, courtesy Chess Records and Arc Music
"Twist & Shout," words and music by Phil Medley and Bert Russell, performed by The Isley Brothers, courtesy Scepter Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
August 1973
Premiere Information:
New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Orleans openings: 8 August 1973
Los Angeles opening: 10 August 1973
Production Date:
1972
Copyright Claimant:
Film Creations, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
8 August 1973
Copyright Number:
LP47824
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe; with b&w seq
Animation
Duration(in mins):
76 or 78
MPAA Rating:
X
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as a dissolute young cartoonist named Michael Corleone plays pinball, scenes of crime and vice play out on the urban streets around him. Two African-American hoboes reunite, but as soon as they proceed to a bar to play blues music together, one is killed in an episode of random violence. Meanwhile, Michael’s father Angelo, a low-level mobster, brags to his mistress Molly that he can stop the current strike at the docks he controls. At home, Michael draws his cartoons to escape the brutal fights between the Italian Angelo and his Jewish mother Ida, who attacks Angelo when he comes home, knocking him out and stuffing his head into the oven. Angelo awakens just in time to save himself, then screams at Ida as she feeds Michael huge helpings of food. Michael escapes to the roof seeking peace, where he finds Moze, a mentally unstable black man who lives in the basement. The two agree that they and everyone around them are trapped and oppressed, and to break the cycle, they release Michael’s pet homing pigeon. The bird at first returns to the roof, but they throw bricks at it until it soars away. Michael then attempts to get a job with underwear photographer Joe, but when the virginal young Michael is overwhelmed by the half-naked models, Joe barks at him to leave. Later, friends from the neighborhood pull Michael onto the roof where Rosalyn lies nude, willing to sleep with the whole gang. At the boys’ teasing that Michael will not participate, Michael awkwardly removes his clothes, but as he undresses he trips, pushing Rosalyn off the roof. As the boys ... +


In the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as a dissolute young cartoonist named Michael Corleone plays pinball, scenes of crime and vice play out on the urban streets around him. Two African-American hoboes reunite, but as soon as they proceed to a bar to play blues music together, one is killed in an episode of random violence. Meanwhile, Michael’s father Angelo, a low-level mobster, brags to his mistress Molly that he can stop the current strike at the docks he controls. At home, Michael draws his cartoons to escape the brutal fights between the Italian Angelo and his Jewish mother Ida, who attacks Angelo when he comes home, knocking him out and stuffing his head into the oven. Angelo awakens just in time to save himself, then screams at Ida as she feeds Michael huge helpings of food. Michael escapes to the roof seeking peace, where he finds Moze, a mentally unstable black man who lives in the basement. The two agree that they and everyone around them are trapped and oppressed, and to break the cycle, they release Michael’s pet homing pigeon. The bird at first returns to the roof, but they throw bricks at it until it soars away. Michael then attempts to get a job with underwear photographer Joe, but when the virginal young Michael is overwhelmed by the half-naked models, Joe barks at him to leave. Later, friends from the neighborhood pull Michael onto the roof where Rosalyn lies nude, willing to sleep with the whole gang. At the boys’ teasing that Michael will not participate, Michael awkwardly removes his clothes, but as he undresses he trips, pushing Rosalyn off the roof. As the boys laugh, Rosalyn hangs suspended by one foot on a clothesline, naked and upside-down. That night, transvestite Snowflake goes to the Samba Club, where sassy African American Carole tends bar and fends off the advances of Shorty, a legless drunk. Michael sits on the bar’s roof and lowers sketches of Carole down through the skylight, earning free beers from the appreciative barkeep. Snowflake seduces a burly man named Bongo, but when Bongo realizes Snowflake’s true gender, he beats up the transvestite, delighting the masochistic Snowflake. The bar owner blames the ensuing melee on Carole, however, and she is fired. Outside, Michael consoles her, and when Shorty asks her out, in desperation she blurts out that Michael is her boyfriend. Immediately after, she informs Michael that she is entirely uninterested in him, but after wandering the threatening streets, shows up at his house and offers to date him in return for a place to stay. When she removes her clothes, however, Michael passes out. At the same time, Angelo takes Molly to the docks to see him handle the strike, but there inadvertently infuriates the Mafia Godfather by offering to replace the striking workers with African Americans. Fearful for his life, Angelo returns home with prostitute Rosa, hoping she will initiate Michael into sex. As Ida menaces Angelo with a knife, Michael tries to run away from Rosa, and after beating Ida into submission, Angelo sees Carole and slings racial epithets at her. Carole and Michael take to the streets together. She convinces him to take his cartoons to an animation syndicate, but Michael’s explicit, transgressive comics so horrify the elderly executive that he dies. Later, Carole’s black, prostitute friends taunt her that her only options are cab driving, babysitting, housewifing or joining them, but she learns of a job as a taxi dancer and wins the position by using Michael as her “pimp” to entice customers. At the same time, a drunken Angelo visits the repulsive Godfather to beg forgiveness and request a “contract” on Michael’s life for dating a black woman. The Godfather ejects Angelo, after which he stumbles outside to where Snowflake relaxes in the back of a truck. At Snowflake’s urging, Angelo spends the night with him until Shorty finds him and offers to kill Michael for a fee. Back at the dance hall, Michael is finding dancers for Carole when he spots Ida, half-naked and drunk. While his mother wanders off and cries, recalling images from her innocent past, Carole’s elderly dance partner dies and she is, once again, fired. When Michael slaps her, she challenges him to play “a real man’s game.” To that end, she poses as a prostitute and lures a customer, after which Michael gathers his courage and attacks the man so they can steal his money. Proud of his virility, Michael struts the streets with Carole, but just then Shorty approaches and shoots him through the head. Later, back at the pinball machine, Michael loses the game, and after breaking the machine, walks the streets alone. On one corner, he sees a woman resembling Carole, but when he approaches her she spurns him. He wanders, dejected, until he determines to pursue her, and searches the streets until he finds her in the park. There, he finally convinces her of his love and the two dance happily. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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