The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi, 1978

Ralph Bakshi Interview With Salon

Salon has a short interview with the cult animator, Ralph Bakshi, who among other things produced a decidedly dark version of JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” in 1978, achieving modest box office success from a relatively small budget. I still have a great deal of affection for the film, despite all its flaws, and in some ways prefer its sinister intimacy to Peter Jackson’s sprawling live-action spectacular. A short extract from the interview:

[Salon] I think by the mid-‘70s, your very last name was synonymous with a certain type of film, in the way that Scorsese or Freidkin or Coppola were synonymous with a certain type of film. I mean, without forcing you to be immodest, would you agree that that a Bakshki film promised a certain boldness and a certain exciting cinematic experience? A fearlessness.

[Bakshi] One of the things that I try to do is to keep moving on. You say I was fearless, Maybe I’m stupid. I have this great belief that the truth will out. You know, I’m part of that brown-blue 1940s kind of guy who grows up and thinks that there’s still a great American novel somewhere.

Those kind of people don’t exist in this country anymore.

I know, I know.

They were born after the War and probably died off after the ‘80s, you know?

No question about it. I’m old-school in that sense. I never looked at my success. I never played my success. I could have gotten laid more. [Laughs.] I had no idea what was going on.

Did it get you into trouble though? Did people pick at your film? Almost because they misunderstood what you intended as a realistic if somewhat irreverent take on certain things: women and minorities. Did they just not get it? Did you get into trouble?

They were stunned. The fact is that so many people grew up on Disney and were offended with what I was doing with animation. I was the guy who came in and told everyone that Walt Disney was full of shit. And they hated me for it. They thought I was vulgar.

Did they try and blackball you, Disney?

Oh, yeah, forget about it! I showed up at Hollywood with “Fritz the Cat” and there was a full page in “Variety” taken out by every Disney artist and every key artist on the West Coast, telling me that I should go home, that “we don’t need the crap” that I’m bringing after all the trouble that Walt made to make it a great medium.

Did Disney try to keep you out of mainstream cinemas? I mean, did you have to screen at art film houses and stuff?

Battles galore. Battles galore. When I opened up “Wizards,” Disney opened up “Fantasia.” And there were multiplexes. Disney opened up “Fantasia” in every fucking theatre “Wizards” was in, just to try to confuse the issue.

“Fantasia,” which was a 40-year-old film at that point, right?

Well, yeah! It was very difficult.

[Note: Salon reached out to Disney for comment on Bakshi’s account of his arrival in Hollywood, and the company did not respond.]

But the people who did see your films like myself and like Quentin Tarantino and like, I would imagine, Peter Jackson, people who had come out to eventually make their mark on cinema were probably changed forever by them, you know? So you could say “fuck Disney,” ultimately?

Fuck Disney — those guys are my friends. Look, I never went through a huge audience. I never went to merchandise any “Heavy Traffic” stars. I’m serious. What I’m saying is that I’m not looking for the biggest numbers possible. I am looking for people whom I can share something with, who I enjoy. I am looking to be in the Village in a bar with a bunch of guys I really want to be with. And everybody else can go fuck themselves. You have to understand that I love art, I love being the underground photographer. I’m serious now.

I don’t need a Ferrari to get around in. So what I’m saying is that a guy like you is part of my crowd and those are the people that I love and respect. I can’t respect everyone who wants to run around and buy “Star Wars” dolls. Who needs that junk? And it’s shit. That’s never been any doubt, in other words even when I worked in Hollywood, I tried to get something down that I believe in.

But you did an epic version of “The Lord of the Rings” — does that qualify as you working for Hollywood?

Oh, yeah. But I had a very difficult time. “Coonskin” was destroyed and “Hey Good Lookin’” was ripped apart. And I needed money. I had a studio and so I figured if I did “Lord of the Rings”— and by the way, I love Tolkien very much. I love to read those books. “Lord of the Rings” was sensational, and still is. So I figured I could make some money doing that, you know, and save the studio — which it did.

Holding my studio together got everyone pissed off in L.A.. All the animation video people thought I was through!

And it’s a very, very, very dark, spooky version of “Lord of the Rings.”

Tolkien’s very dark. It scared the shit out of you.

And it was hard to be a kid as I was and stomach such a gothic, spooky version of what initially seemed like a fantasy from Led Zeppelin lyrics, you know?

I wanted to use Led Zeppelin music for the Tolkien —”

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One comment

  1. Always liked the Bakshi LOTR, even if it was madly flawed. Some of the background art was beautiful in its own way. That point re LZ is interesting. Plant was a fan of the LOTR, but unfortunately he incorporated some of it into lyrics on LZII (Misty Mountain Hop on IV is okay). Not great, and I like LZ. Anyhow, thanks for putting that up.

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