Friday, August 20, 2010

Putting on the Fritz

A day after having first seen it, I'm still kind of traumatized by Fritz the Cat. Being the first X-rated animated feature carries with it certain expectations, which were more than met. But there's a whole lot more going on besides sex and general raunchiness. There's a gleeful irreverence toward hippies, some shall we say, frank racial content, and violence that's way more discomfiting than the genitalia whipped about. There's real wit behind the proceedings, particularly the opening scene with some college girls' clueless condescension to a black man they're fawning over ("Why does a great actor like James Earl Jones always have to play black men?"), followed by Fritz's wooing them by pretending to be a tortured soul. There's also something approaching affection in a scene in a synagogue, particularly when one of the cops (a pig!) complains that goyim aren't supposed to sing, that could only come from intimate familiarity (the Fritz the Cat comic's creator, Robert Crumb, recently published a comic version of the Book of Genesis, all 50 chapters).

In spite of this, though, the whole thing has a nasty edge to it that I can't entirely articulate in words; I think pointing to the scene of the Nazi cult biker tying his girlfriend to the bed naked and whipping her with a chain, is illustrative. Or when Fritz starts a race riot that leads to Harlem being bombed by fighter jets. The wit at work is very pointed, indeed, and spares no one, including the viewer.

The net effect of it all is kind of a hectic jumble. That makes it hard to think of Fritz the Cat as a "good" movie, but then again that kind of distinction is kind of beside the point. It's an underground movie based on an underground comic book that isn't looking for mainstream acceptance, so you almost have to approach it on its own terms. Its merciless nature also gives me the sense that it probably isn't a terribly great exaggeration of what the 60s were actually like. That it's still so shocking to a viewer as jaded as myself 38 years on is saying something.

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