Drawing from Brooklyn: Ralph Bakshi is still making films about his home borough

Rebuilding the boardwalk: For his upcoming film “The Last Days of Coney Island,” Ralph Bakshi reconstructed — and embellished upon — the People’s Playground from stacks of photos he has taken over the years.
Ralph Bakshi

Brooklyn is about to get a little more animated.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is screening a series of films by Brooklyn-raised animator Ralph Bakshi from May 9–20. The groundbreaking filmmaker is credited with creating the first X-rated cartoon (1975’s “Fritz the Cat”) and bringing independent animation into the mainstream.

But the seven films showing at BAM will not be a definitive collection of Bakshi’s works — the 75-year-old director is currently working on an animated noir called “The Last Days of Coney Island.” Bakshi said the flick will be the ultimate expression of his style, which he likened to a scratchy record.

“Old blues is what I animate,” said Bakshi. “In fact, I’ve gotten rougher than before — I’ve learned some things since my last project.”

The film will give viewers a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of the People’s Playground in the 1960s — a setting inhabited by prostitutes, gangsters, and the men who chase them. But it is not a detective flick, Bakshi explained.

“There’s a bunch of detectives running around, but they’re all bastards,” he said.

Bakshi said he is drawing from his experiences growing up in Brooklyn.

Hold on!: Shorty is one of the many flawed characters inhabiting Bakshi’s upcoming “Last Days of Coney Island.”
Ralph Bakshi

Raised in Brownsville, Bakshi was fascinated by flawed people who try to do the best with what they have — and he channels their ethic in his work, he said.

“What I loved most was the different characters,” he said. “Everything that I do stems from these people that I love.”

Apparently, the film will also stem from the streets he loves. Bakshi said he is creating the movie’s backgrounds from stacks of photos he has taken wandering Brooklyn’s sidewalks over the years. It is a ritual he first employed in his breakout “Fritz the Cat,” and later used in New York City films “Hey Good Lookin’ ” and “Heavy Traffic” — all of which are screening at the BAM retrospective.

The Brooklynite-turned-New Mexican will be on hand for an artist’s talk on May 9 at 7 pm, before returning to work on his Coney Island flick, which he expects to finish before the end of the year.

Bakshi said he doesn’t know what will come next once “The Last Days of Coney Island” is wrapped up, but he plans to draw until his own last days.

“A good artist that’s alive — he keeps going until the end,” he said.

“Cool Worlds: The Animation of Ralph Bakshi” at BAM Rose Cinemas [30 Lafayette Ave. near Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. May 9–20. $13 per film.

Back in Brooklyn: Ralph Bakshi channels his experiences growing up in Brownsville into his animation.
Ralph Bakshi

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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