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American Pop

By Dave McCoy

Animator-director-screenwriter Ralph Bakshi audaciously tries to chronicle the history of 20th-century American popular music, while also placing each period into historical and social context--all in 97 minutes! Its animated, episodic narrative follows four generations of Jewish-American musicians as each painfully seeks fame through changing musical eras. Starting at the turn of the century with a piano-playing immigrant in New York, the film moves swiftly, following his offspring through such movements as Gershwin-era pop, jazz, folk music, '60s psychedelia, and punk--and only pauses for elaborate, energized musical numbers designed to showcase the work of Benny Goodman, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Lou Reed, the Jefferson Airplane, and numerous others. However, these electric set pieces provide brief dynamism in a relatively bleak film filled with hard-luck protagonists suffering through clichéd drug addiction, death, and alienation. While the film's scope is admirably ambitious, and Bakshi's stylized use of rotoscoping (tracing animation from live action) makes for fluid and often eye-popping visuals, his treatment also feels heavy handed and cuts numerous corners. And, when Baskshi ends his epic by mocking punk, and celebrating the future of rock & roll through the music of Bob Seger, one wonders whether or not he a knowledgeable grasp of his topic at all.


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Buy this VHS movie from! (Click here!)Buy this DVD from! (Click here!)Soundtrack unavailable at - try eBay (see links below)Rated RNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Stars: Ron Thompson, Marya Small, Jerry Holland, Lisa Jane Persky, Jeffrey Lippa, Roz Kelly

Released: February 13, 1981

Availability: DVD VHS

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