Ralph Bakshi is alive, well, working on a new film (which you can fund on Kickstarter), and very, very angry in a good way.
I never went and did a film to make audiences feel good or happy. I could care less what my audiences cared about. What every big director in Hollywood today is really doing, most of them, they’re creating lies. Now what do I mean by lying? It’s that they get together in a room…I was there so I know…they get together in a room and they say, “OK, how do we make audiences happy? How do we make a film that gets them excited?” So they forget the truth. The truth isn’t the issue anymore. It’s all smoke and mirrors. That’s the reality. A lot of them are very, very successful. When I approach my films, I’m asking myself what am I angry about, what do I want to say to people? Who cares what they think. That’s always my approach. And I’m dying for them [the audience] to show up and see it. Don’t get me wrong. I’d like a Ferrari. I would love to buy a Ferrari and drive around America, you know what I’m saying? There’s nothing wrong with money if you make it honestly. I always wanted audiences to come, I wanted them to like my films. Every artist wants you to like their work. But I didn’t bend my work towards what I thought they would want to see.
Sitting on my desk right now are a few books that embody the obverse of this argument, all of them books on screenwriting I picked up from the dollar rack at a bookstore I frequent. Their argument, which I believe I am not caricaturing too badly by phrasing it this way, is that a story not worth selling to a large number of people is not worth selling, period.
This may be true for something that people are going to pump $120M into, but what about something 1/100th of that scale, or even less? Why do we assume the only market worth having is one where everything is a tentpole project, or can be marketed as one? The other day I saw a trailer for a movie that was ostensibly an indie production but was constructed out of all the same beats, formulas, and zingers as a big-budget movie — not to say that those Hollywood hotshots don't know their marketing craft, but that their model winds up elbowing everything else out by sheer dint of being the most marketable one.
I'm fairly sure none of the people who wrote those books would have anything kind to say about Bakshi's ragged but sincere moviemaking. I loved Wizards despite its many flaws (heck, maybe because of them) and my biggest complaint about Fire and Ice was that it wasn't much of a story. But I never got the impression Bakshi did anything only because there was a buck in it — or even because there was a positive test-market audience card in it. (Cool World was taken out of his hands and drastically altered by the studio to be palatable to the folks who run multiplexes; go read the comic adaptation to get some hints of what the original story had been like.)
... People lose that ability to be honest and stop copying other artists or saying this is mine now that I put it up my blog, I love UPA so much I must be a genius. I’m a great fan of a certain style so I must be great too. It’s kind of sick. I love all those cartoons that they put up on the blog but I don’t try to take those cartoons over. I respect them, I love them, I learn from them and move on. But I don’t try to suck them dry. I certainly don’t think I am as good as any one of them.
What Bakshi's describing here is something I've seen in too many other venues to count, and one common to both creators and fans alike. The more strongly you identify with something else, the more strongly you can be identified with it, to the point where other people are willing to assign you attributes that used to be exclusive to the other thing.
My nasty way of putting this is, it's a shorthand way to be credited for something you never did in the first place. Any circles where fandom proliferates become breeding grounds for this attitude, because a) it's encouraged and b) too many of those circles don't inspire people to distinguish themselves in other ways, such as actually, y'know, creating something.
... because art criticism has disappeared, everything goes, everything is a masterpiece, everyone’s a hit, everyone is a genius for a couple of weeks and then they're gone. So I mourn the lack of criticism and intellectual discussions on music, on art, on films and I think that has made audiences less aware of what they are watching.
Not long ago I was given the first installment in what is promised to be a three-book series (only the second one is out so far), which came trailing a whole comet's tail of orgasmic blurbing from various authorities who ought to be halfway trustable — namely, other authors in the field. The first book turned out to be so awful that I couldn't bring myself to read the rest of it.
It was not the first time I'd had hammered home the truth that an author may not be a good critic — that some authors, in fact, have perfectly ghastly reading tastes, and don't even see it as their business to develop critical standards except inasmuch as they are a reflection of the very audiences they are tooling themselves to serve. But the sheer breadth of the praise lavished on the book in question made me wonder if it was even possible to be respected for having critical standards in the first place. I didn't think the book was just bad, I thought it was a bad example to emulate.
My point is not that the critic in me is right and anyone who reads this series and enjoys it should turn in their card and go home. It's that the criticism of a book should be as distinct an enterprise as possible from just getting it out there and getting it read, if for no other reason than because it enforces a more honest set of critical standards.
Criticism is important because it helps us separate what is good about work — its ambition, its intelligence, its grace — from all the things that make it merely popular. No one critic is the guiding light for making this happen, but an informed dialogue of which they are part of is key to it. A society that can't tell the difference between being flattered and being enlightened is doomed to be forever at the mercy of its flatterers.