Updated: Jul 7
My husband and I were having dinner the other evening with friends of ours at one of our favorite, deliciously Maui eateries. While discussing our soon to be High School kids our conversation moved into, quite naturally as it does with parents, into what our high school experience was. And, conversely…. what our parents were like and their ways of raising their kids (us). My mother was absolutely incredible and magnificent, my father…. Completely conservative and a self-proclaimed “square.” From around the table came dead silence. A bit of choking and clearing of the throat. A fork may have clattered to a plate even. Eyebrows shot up. Rounded eyes outlined in full white and arched eyebrows. From my dining partners comes a bit more silence followed by the slow, easy curve of the lips into an outright smile into a gasp swallowed by a burst of laughter. “Ha! That’s hilarious. You ARE joking right?” Uhmmmm…. Not at all. Dead serious. “Have you SEEN your DAD’S movies?”
Yes. I have. And you couldn’t meet a more straight laced parent then my dad ( well....that's not exactly true... but you get the idea). Well, until Cool World… but that is another story, and one reason why I am insanely, reflexively repulsed by and why I seriously need therapy on what is known in my mind as “Hollywood”…but alas….that is also an entirely different story. Not this story. And, as all people have their own stories and their own views, this is just my pov. You may very well have entirely different stories of Bakshi - and Im sure they are valid and correct and float out there by the hundreds ( And yes- I am frightened of them a bit - please dont tell them to me). But I am his only daughter. I am the one who lived with him, grew up with him, knew him from a daughters point of view. And this is my take. Take it or leave it. Judge it. Tear it down. Laugh at it. Deny it. Yes yes, I am aware he is not perfect - actually way far from that. He's not appropriate at times, and can be obtuse and obnoxious and impossible. He is all of it. But drugs and alcohol..... nope.
I’d like to explain to my friends how this can be true, of my dad (Ralph Bakshi) and being so “square.” Because in person I get so confused while speaking it’s easier to write. Dad is an observer. He has always been that observer watching everyone. Yes…in fact… judging everyone. He sat in the corner at parties, street corners, brownstone steps…. And watched. Completely sober. For if he was not, he could not see what was going on, really going on. He observed the blatant racism. The sexism. Prejudicial ways of life. The beatings. Treatment of humanity by those in charge and those not in charge. The drug deals. The starvation. The selling of oneself to the devil, the organization, or the person in the car. The stealing, the manipulation, the gamble on hope and faith. The wins. The upward mobility. The stars and stripes and successes. He watched. Observed. Steered around drugs and alcohol. Would never spend money on it when he had money. And never had money. Until he did, then it went all to his art. Never through his nose or mouth.
Dad was clear. He is clear (chill out- NOT Scientology "Clear") Because he observed. He retained information. He saw and learned. The world spun around him and he viewed it quietly. And from his perspective, there was a lot of fucked up situations swirling and nesting around him right up to his front stoop (He can not handle when I curse, so I didn’t just curse – sorry Dad.) He could never have written what he did or make the movies he made if he was on drugs or partying. That happened once much later during what I believe would be called a total catastrophe, or Hollywood or something, and he lost total control of his film and it wrecked him – it took years to put him back together to the man he was. Another story though- ( this "other story " keeps popping up?! hmmmm - accepting therapist recommendations starting now .) How much do we remember when we are on drugs or partying? And if we do remember… how skewed and distorted is it? I have found, and this is a general statement from personal experience, those that have created while in altered states or from what they experienced in altered states, think they are creating what truly IS. Only to find when not in same state, is totally NOT. Its awful. Its not real. Its not how it was perceived at all.
Everything in his films is so real. The wild sex. The wild drugs. The blatant violence. Yes, it existed. He was there. He saw it. He lived it. Totally straight and sober. How is this possible that he was not engaging? Because if he was…he wouldn’t really “see” it, would he. Not objectively. Not from the perspective he would be able to see the whole picture from and then coherently translate that to a movie. The trippy visuals you ask? The colors, the way the films were made? “That couldn’t be done unless you are on drugs!” I beg to differ. And so does dad. The way the films are made could not be done if you are on drugs. Or were on drugs. Because it would possibly never be completed or translated onto film as clearly and passionately as it was. How about, one doesn’t need drugs to create art. Is that possible to take in and understand. And it continues into his 80’s. Did anyone see’ Last Days of Coney Island’ which he animated by hand, himself in his 80’s right here in his studio. Now that is one crazy, fd up trippy shit, and trust me, caffeine in his coffee is the biggest drug being passed around here.
So, not to shock you, but his films are his observations of what he saw around him. They are not HIM. Dad was raised by rabbi Grandfather and Uncles and nanna who were all very conservative. His father was a quiet, modest man, a good man. Dad loved and respected his family and the rules that were implemented. He grew up listening to klezmer music sitting at the table at lunch while Nanna made him a homecooked meal. And was thankful. He did smoke cigarettes however. And he watched. And was shocked. And frightened. And perplexed. And concerned. And he drew it. And kept drawing. And watched and drew. And his drawings grew. And could become a great many things. Most of all… he quickly learned he could draw what he was seeing. Quietly. Without engaging. If he was drawing, he said, he was left alone. He wasn’t hastled. He was that kid in the corner drawing. What was really going on from his view in the corner. If he could afford the pencils to draw, and find the paper… he drew. And these stories…. Were real. And he saw. And he remembered. And shared.
As I told my friend sitting across the dinner table how conservative my dad is: Dad saw what was going on, and would not let his family be harmed out there in “the world” – his world as he knew it – which was Brownesville in the 40’s – 70’s . His point of view, understandably, was a world run rampant with poverty, racism, inequality, sexism, drugs, war and toughness. It was not a pretty world. So… to my friend: If dads grand-daughter came home with her boyfriend (friend’s son)… you bet that boyfriend would be sitting across the room from her and there would be none of this kissing and cuddling in front of Grandpa. Because grandpa grew up being schooled on the streets of NY, and he stored what he saw happening on the streets of NYC and sees what that escalates too and the damage it could do and what becomes of it all in his mind (for more information on this bit...please see any of his films). So if anyone walks in or out of his house with a skirt too short, or is ordering a drink, or believes drugs are ok - there is HELLFIRE shot through the room. Because we have to be safe and clear headed to work and live. Does it make any better sense? Not sure… but there it is. Dad is a self-proclaimed “square.” I think I may have just burst a big Bakshi bubble for a few die hards out there. It is kinda hilarious. . #contradiction #juxtaposition #pops #growingupbakshi