Thursday, October 18, 2018

Coonskin (1975) Neo Noirtoon

Betty Boop was possibly one of the first cartoons to run afoul of the Hayes Code. 
She was one of the first and probably most famous animated sex symbols. Her occasionally noir-ish cartoons contained obvious sexual references and some  cerebra subject matter. Betty Boop had noticeable breasts, wore short dresses, heels, and a garter. Ralph Bakshi sort of revived this early risque tradition on the big screen in 1972 .

The first Ralph Bakshi film I saw was his animated version of R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat. 

I saw it on it's premier run in a theater in Missoula, Montana. It was a hit. It also was the first feature-length animated film to receive an X rating by the American rating system.  Animation was catching up to Sexploitation. His next film Heavy Traffic (1973) I barely remember. Today I caught up with Coonskin. Here animation catches up with both Sexploitation and Blaxploitation with the live action sequences and the croma-key backgrounds wonderfully noir-ish.

Written and directed by Ralph Bakshi. Cinematography was by William A. Fraker, Film Editing by Donald W. Ernst and music by Chico Hamilton.

The film stars Philip Michael Thomas (Mr. Ricco (1975), Miami Vice TV Series (1984–1990), ) as Randy, Barry White (an American singer-songwriter, musician, record producer and composer), as Sampson, Charles Gordone (Angel Heart (1987)), as Preacherman, and Scatman Crothers (Lady in a Cage (1964), Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Shining (1980)) as Pappy.

The Coonskin was very controversial. The Congress of Racial Equality criticized the films content as being racist. When the film was released it got mixed reviews. But a New York Times review said that it could be called a masterpiece.... "Coonskin which opened yesterday at the Trans-Lux East and the Bryan is a shatteringly successful effort to use an uncommon form - cartoons and live action combined - to convey  the hallucinatory violence and frustration of American city life, specifically black city life."

It has since been re-evaluated.

Oklahoma Church

Coonskin has two tales. A live action piece about two buddies Samson and Preacher Man out to rescue the third member of their trio Randy who is doing time in the "big house". They cooked up a prison break scheme. They are going to smuggle Randy a pistol. With it he's to overpower some guards at nightfall and let himself out a side door along the prison wall.

Samson and Preacher Man's part of the plan is to drive 100 mph towards the prison wall through a cow pasture.  When Randy hears that car coming he is going to run out from the shelter of the wall to meet it.

 Preacherman (Charles Gordone)

The second tale is told by an old convict named Pappy (who decided to break out with Randy), while they wait and sweat it out beneath the prison wall and guard towers. The tale is an update of Uncle Remus' Tar-Baby fable. The fable is the story told in cartoon and live action of how Rabbit and his two hoodies Bear and Preacher Fox head up to Harlem after their whorehouse operation is busted, to make their bones. Rabbit is cool, Bear is good but slow, and Preacher Fox is sneaky.

Randy (Philip Michael Thomas) and Pappy (Scatman Crothers)
Harlem is the big time. "Home to every black man." Its rough, heavy, smooth, it can be up, it can be down, clawing up a wall, it can be crawlin' on the ground. Titillating and brutal. Harlem can be Good News or the Blues. The down boys meet a fake preacher/racketeer Simple Savior, he gives his followers "the strength to kill whites".  It gets pretty surreal pretty quickly.

Doorman: This here's where Simple Savior runs his black revolution, brother. Natural black Jesus is the reverend's cousin, too. He gives people the strength to kill whites.
Brother Bear: Kill whites? [to Preacher Fox] You hear that shit? [to Doorman] Any whites?
Doorman:  Yeah, any whites.
Brother Bear: Ain't this a bitch?
Preacher Fox: Anyone we want?
Brother Bear: Ain't this a bitch!
Preacher Fox:  Huh. We can kill anyone we want?
Doorman:  Any whites.
Preacher Fox:  I have one special...
Brother Bear: [Grabs Fox and pulls him to the side] Stop it, Fox. Stop it.

The tricking and killing of the fake preacher allows Rabbit to take over his rackets. This makes Rabbit in line to become the head of all organized crime in Harlem. Once Rabbit gets to the top  he wipes out the heroin trade. Rabbit wants to keep all the racket money in Harlem.

A crooked homophobic cop Managan also has the neighborhood under his boot, he is the bag man for the Mafia. Rabbit figures out another trap for Managan. The corrupt cop is lured by a sexy go-go dancer into a trance. His drink is spiked with LSD. Hallucinating they shoot him full or heroin. Then they dump him into a room with a homosexual predator. Next his face is painted in blackface, they dress him up as a transvestite and send out to be further debauched on the streets. He gets shot down by the NYPD.

The mafia boss is depicted as a fat marshmallow who lives in the subway with his mostly homosexual sons. The film is also strung throughout with various poignant vignettes some with a returning voluptuous "America," who acts as a tempting but always forbidden object of desire that constantly disappoints the black community. The film is of it's time, and things have proceeded pretty much as expected two steps forward one step back.


Sampson (Barry White)

left to right, Preacher Fox, Bear, Rabbit


The Simple Savior

The allure of 'America"


Cecil's Cocktail Lounge 

The Godfather right


Pappy (Scatman Crothers)

Randy: Damn, they ain't showed yet. I'm going to have to get out of here on my own.
Pappy: Sit down, boy. Don't you leave this wall. They'll pick your ass up, sure as shit! And I ain't never seen nobody that they picked up come back walking, talking, laughing, or breathing!

Times Square Shuttle

The voice animators are Philip Michael Thomas as Brother Rabbit, Barry White as Brother Bear, Charles Gordone as Preacher Fox, Scatman Crothers as  Old Man Bone.

Additional Voices were Danny Rees as Clown, Buddy Douglas as Referee, Jim Moore as Mime, Al Lewis as The Godfather, Richard Paul as Sonny, Frank de Kova as Managan, and Ralph Bakshi as Cop With Megaphone.

Some tits & ass and cartoon dongs on display. Definitely not PC. 8/10.

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