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Bakshi's 'Coonskin' in Animation Festival

July 16, 1987|CHARLES SOLOMON

Following is a review of today's screening in the Los Angeles Animation Celebration:

"Coonskin" (USA, 1975), Nuart Theater, 11:30 p.m.: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

"Coonskin" provoked a small riot when director Ralph Bakshi showed it as a work-in-progress at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974: Representatives from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) objected to its depictions of blacks. After a brief run in 1975, the film was consigned to the shelf, where it has remained ever since.

Thirteen years later, the racial imagery in "Coonskin" looks very angry, very dark and very ugly. Bakshi's attempt to move Joel Chandler Harris' "Uncle Remus" to Harlem in the '70s abounds with grotesquely caricatured stereotypes that are certain to offend not only blacks, but Italians, women, gay men and police officers.

Some sequences demonstrate considerable graphic imagination: When a black prostitute laments the departure of a cockroach she'd befriended, Bakshi juxtaposes her fully animated figure with the stylized movements of a bug modeled after George Herriman's drawings of "archy." But these visually striking moments are overwhelmed by the nightmarish violence and oceans of cartoon blood. Not a film for the easily offended.

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