name = American Pop
caption = Theatrical release poster.
Ralph Bakshi Martin Ransohoff
February 13, 1981
runtime = 96 min
country = USA
language = English
gross = $6,000,000
amg_id = 1:83636
imdb_id = 0082009
"American Pop" is a 1981 American
animated filmdirected by Ralph Bakshi. The film tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish immigrantfamily of musicians whose careers parallel the history of American popular music. The majority of the film's animation was completed through rotoscoping, a process in which live actors are filmed and the subsequent footage is used for animators to draw over. However, the film also uses a variety of other mixed media including water colors, computer graphics, live action shots, and archival footage.
The film begins in Russia during the late 1890s while under the rule of the
Tsars. A rabbi's wife urges her husband, Jaacov, to flee from the Cossacks who are engaging in a pogrom. However, Jaacov refuses because he hasn't finished his prayer. Jaacov's wife and Zalmie escape to America, but Jaacov is killed by the Cossacks. The sequence is set to Aneinu, a traditional Jewish prayer, and is presented in a similar manner as a silent film, as the dialogue appears in intertitles.
Shortly after their arrival in
New York City, Zalmie becomes fascinated with the music coming from a local burlesquehouse. He gets recruited by Louie, an infrequent performer, to hand out chorus slips to the audiences of various nearby clubs throughout the night in a montageset to " Maple Leaf Rag". At the end of the night, Louie reluctantly pays Zalmie for his work. Zalmie uses the money to buy two bananas from a street merchant before running home to his worried mother.
As Zalmie grows into adolescence, he spends more time with Louie backstage at burlesque shows. When Zalmie's mother dies in a
sweatshopblaze (possibly the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire), he begins working with Louie fulltime at a small theatre. Though Zalmie aspires to be a singer, he is beginning to enter pubertyand his changing voice becomes a significant obstacle. His immature voice remains unchanged even as he nears adulthood. When World War Istrikes, Zalmie travels the globe performing for the troops, but not as a singer – he plays the bottom half of a costumed horse with Louie. At age seventeen, during a performance, the onlooking American soldiers are briefly attacked by a small group of biplanefighters and in the ensuing battle, Zalmie sustains a wound to his throat, effectively ending his dream as a singer.
When Zalmie returns to New York, he briefly continues performing as a
clown, although his comedic talents are largely unimpressive. He falls in love with a stripper named Bella and vows to make her a famous singer. In order to get her started in showbusiness, however, Zalmie becomes involved with the mob during prohibition. After Zalmie gets Bella pregnant with their first child, Benny, he uses money from mob boss Nicky Palumbo to pay for their wedding.
As Bella begins achieving modest success, Zalmie becomes more deeply involved in the mafia. At one of Bella's performances at a high class ballroom, two gangsters arrive and a violent shootout occurs in front of a young Benny. Tensions in the mafia world increase, as seen by way of a montage featuring "
Sweet Georgia Brown".
One night during a game of poker at the Belinksy residence, Bella receives a package at the door that is meant for Zalmie. Thinking it's a box of pretzels, a bomb from within the package ignites, killing Bella. Benny, who is already an introverted child, focuses all of his efforts into becoming a talented
jazz pianist. A transition from childhood to adulthood is accompanied again by "Sweet Georgia Brown", this time performed by Benny at a nightclub with a rehearsing jazz band.
Zalmie, noticing Benny's talent, encourages him to record a record for
RCA Victorand pursue fame, but Benny seems content performing in nightclubs. Benny does, however, get married to Nicky Palumbo's daughter at Zalmie's request. After she becomes pregnant, Benny enlists to fight in World War IIseeking redemption for his family, despite pleas from his father. Scenes from the bloody war are intercut with various couples swing dancing to " Sing, Sing, Sing". The montage ends with a burlesque dancer moving exotically to the song as tassels swing with her bare breasts (this was actually rotoscoped from Philippe Mora's 1975 documentary film "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?").
On the battlefield, Benny poorly plays "As Time Goes By" on a
harmonicain a trench much to the irritation of his war buddies. In Germany, Benny finds a piano in an abandoned house, and sets down his gun to play it. As he plays "As Time Goes By" on the piano, an injured German soldier sneaks up on him from behind. Benny hears the German accidentally kick a chair to the side, turns around and sees him. As the German struggles to hold his BAR(an American weapon), Benny plays a short segment from " Lili Marleen". The German sways happily until Benny stops abruptly. The German says "danke" to Benny, cocks his gun, and kills Benny, who collapses onto the piano.
The focus of the film is shifted to
Long Island, where Benny's wife and son are now living. Nicky Palumbo has forced Benny's wife to remarry, though she chooses to marry outside of "the business" (she instead marries a refrigeratorsalesman). Zalmie, who has since been committed to the Jacksonville State Prison for eight years, appears on television in a trial concerning the mob. Nicky Palumbo, two gangsters, Louie and Benny's young son, Tony, watch the trial on television. Nicky Palumbo is shocked when Zalmie testifies against him. Zalmie remarks, "This country has been good to me in its way. 'I took,' my son said. So... now it's time to give back." While the gangsters argue angrily that they should have murdered Zalmie when they had the chance, Louie watches unaffected. One man yells "I can't believe that schmuck is going to sing!" Louie replies calmly, "Sing? Sure. That's all he ever wanted."
The decade is now established as the 1950s through an audio montage of sound clips including an excerpts from a speech by
Harry S. Truman("We are fighting for time. The young men in Korea and Japan are fighting for time--for us.") [ [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=13787 Harry S. Truman: Remarks at the Armed Forces Day Dinner, May 18th, 1951] at The American Presidency Project] and from Lucille Ballin an episode of " I Love Lucy" ("Ethel, how could you ever think up a sneaky scheme like that?"). At night, in a beat café, a poetgives an energetic reciting of Allen Ginsberg's " Howl". Tony, now a young adult, watches the performance intently. He then rides the subway home (as " Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartetis heard). When Tony returns home, he finds his three younger siblings (two sisters and a brother) sitting on a couch, watching television. They hardly acknowledge his presence. Upon questioning what the children are watching, they tell Tony their mother has instructed them to ignore him, and that he's "going through a phase". When Tony explodes, cursing at them, one of the girls threatens to call their mother. Tony then remarks that their mother wouldn't hear him yelling while she's "shut up in that room listening to that goddamn record"; a recording made by Benny.
Tony shuts himself in his room, pacing angrily. On his dresser is a framed photograph of Benny along with his harmonica. Tony spontaneously decides to leave town, taking with him only the harmonica and some money he has stashed in a "
Playboy" magazine. He steals his stepfather's car and drives across the country for four weeks, picking up a variety of hitchhikers along the way. He ends up in Kansas, abandoning the car by the side of the road. He wanders to a diner, staring at a blonde, blue-eyed waitress. Immediately taken with her, Tony spends the day washing dishes at the diner until the girl gets off from work. The two spend the night together in a corn field and Tony leaves the next day for California, train hopping with a group of hoboswho perform "This Train".
In California, Tony takes another job dishwashing, but soon grows tired of the job and quits. He tells his employer he's interested in pursuing a career in music, but his boss reminds him that he can't sing and he can barely play the guitar. Undeterred, he roams the streets at night playing "California Dreamin'" on the harmonica until a six-piece rock group invites him to write songs for them. Among the songs Tony writes for them are "
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and " A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (both actually composed by Bob Dylan). Both songs are performed with lead vocals by Frankie Hart, the self-destructive female lead singer (who is a fictionalized amalgamation of Grace Slickand Janis JoplinFact|date=May 2007). The band becomes successful but slowly starts to decompose because of drug addictions. At a concert during the 1960s, the band plays "Somebody to Love" (actually performed by Jefferson Airplane). During the concert's animation sequence, the band's performance is inter-cut with live-action stock footage and photos of various important events of the decade (including the Vietnam war, various riots, and the Kent State shootings). Before the song ends, Tony is given punch spiked with LSD. He staggers to the stage, hallucinating, and then falls off.
In the next scene Tony is in the hospital in a body cast. The band visits him, Frankie excited that "Cash Box" and "Billboard" have broken news that their new album is number one on the charts. Given a $5000 advance on their next album, Frankie buys Tony an electric
typewriter. He unenthusiastically accepts the gift.
Out of the hospital, Tony is seen living alone in a state of disrepair, using a cane to walk. Through a desperate phone call for
heroin, it is revealed that the band has left Tony behind and is continuing to achieve success without him, their new album having just gone gold. While The Doors' " People Are Strange" plays, Tony reads that Frankie and the band's drummer, Johnny Webb, have married.
Tony visits the band at their recording studio, trying to finish up "Up, Up and Away" (originally by
The Fifth Dimension). Frankie's behavior is becoming more erratic as she drinks heavily in the studio. Tony learns that Frankie and Johnny's marriage only lasted two weeks and Frankie has missed Tony's songwriting. The two have an affair and are seen using heroin together in transition to a concert scene featuring Jimi Hendrixperforming " Purple Haze" at an arena in Kansas. Frankie's band begins complaining backstage that Hendrix is opening the concert ("we're going to look like shit after him!") but their manager reassures them that they're performing last because they're the bigger stars. Frankie begins coughing, obviously in a poor state of health. Concerned, the band's manager asks Frankie to take care. Frankie states that she takes good care of the manager, the record companies and "every connection from here to the coast". The manager clarifies that he wants Frankie to take good care of herself, to which she replies "Who?"
Tony, high on drugs, realizes where he is and spots a blonde, blue-eyed boy who identifies himself as Little Pete. The boy reminds Tony of the blonde-haired waitress he apparently slept with in Kansas. Little Pete states he never knew his father and we already know we're in the same state as that earlier encounter. Could Little Pete perhaps be the son of Tony and neither of them have figured it out yet!? Tony walks outside into a corn field and has an intense drug withdrawal while remembering the waitress, underscored by "Summertime" as performed by
Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin on lead vocals.
Soon after the concert, Frankie is seen carried out of a motel on a gurney, dead.
Tony and Pete move to
New York City, living in a room at the Hotel Chelsea, barely making rent. Tony, who is almost no longer able to function on his own, is looked after by Pete. One afternoon, Pete brings home a box of cornflakesfor the two to eat and Tony reacts negatively, telling Pete he hates them. Pete encourages Tony to finish his songs so he can get paid, but Tony angrily tells Pete he doesn't need any money ("All I need is love.")
The two are soon forced to live out on the street as Tony resorts to peddling drugs. Meanwhile, Pete begins to adapt to street life, as seen in a montage featuring a live version of "
I'm Waiting for the Man" as performed by Lou Reed. Pete makes a small amount of money playing the acoustic guitar, but Tony uses it to buy more drugs. Tony takes any money that Pete earns.
Lying on a park bench, Tony comes to realize that Pete has stayed with him because he considers Tony his father. Tony gives Benny's harmonica to Pete, then takes Pete's guitar to pawn it, telling Pete to wait on the bench. Pete waits on the bench all day and night, playing "As Time Goes By". The next morning, a man approaches Pete and gives him a small package and a card from an unidentified person whose instructions are "not to sell it all in one place". Pete asks if this person said anything else, and the man remembers to tell Pete "'goodbye'".
Years later, an adult Pete is seen sitting on the same park bench. The song "Hell is for Children", performed by
Pat Benatarplays as Pete hands out small, white packages of cocaineto street hustlers. Passing a synagogue, Pete hears a rabbi completing the prayer that his great-great grandfather Jaacov started nearly a century ago. Returning home Pete drops his new shipment of cocaine into the top of a piano, and begins playing it with skill. The next night, in a surreal montage set to The Sex Pistols's Pretty VacantPete deals more cocaine to various punks at a nightclub until he arrives at a high tech recording studio where a band is recording an album. Pete refuses to sell the band members any more cocaine unless they are willing to listen to his music. They agree to listen to one song and Pete performs his song "Night Moves" (actually written and performed by Bob Seger). His talent stuns both the band and the management and they agree to record and hire him on the spot.
The final sequence of the film shows Pete, harmonica in hand, appearing in a concert sequence performing a medley of "
Blue Suede Shoes", "Devil with a Blue Dress On" and "Crazy on You" as a famous pop star at a sold-out stadium. The sequence not only features rotoscoped animation, but inverted live-action footage with an optical effect.
The ending credits are set to
Lynyrd Skynyrd's " Free Bird".
Ralph Bakshimakes a cameo in the film, providing the voice of a pianist telling Bella that her song "is going to be a big hit."Fact|date=June 2008 Bob Segerrecorded a unique version of "Night Moves" for the film, but it was never released on any album, including the soundtrack album to "American Pop". The version is notable for integral use of piano (rather than guitar, as was used in the original recording).Fact|date=June 2008 Bakshi later stated that he hated the song, and that Columbia was unable to get the rights to the song he had originally chosen for that scene.cite web |url=http://www.edrants.com/segundo/ralph-bakshi-bss-214/ |title="The Bat Segundo Show" #214: Interview with Ralph Bakshi |accessdate=2008-06-25 |last=Segundo |first=Bat |coauthors= |date= May 21, 2008|work= |publisher=Edward Champion's Reluctant Habits]
Although the cost of licensing the music for the film was minimal, Bakshi states that when Columbia later attempted to release the film on home video, the cost of licensing the film's music increased, resulting in the film's release for the home video market being delayed. The film's soundtrack has never been issued on
Nearly fifty popular compositions are featured in the film. Many are performed by their original artists while some have been arranged specifically for the film. They include:
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" written by Bob Dylan
*"American Pop Overture" arranged by
*"Anything Goes" written by
*"As Time Goes By" written by
*"Bill" written by
Jerome Kern/Wodehouse/ Oscar Hammerstein II, performed by Helen Morgan
Blue Suede Shoes" written by Carl Perkins
Body & Soul" written by Johnny Green/ Edward Heyman/ Frank Eyton/ Robert Sour
*"California Dreamin'" written by
The Mamas & the Papas
*"Cantaloupe Island" composed by
*"Charleston" written by
Cecil Mack/ James P. Johnson
Crazy on You" written by Ann Wilson/ Nancy Wilson/ Roger Fisher of Heart
*"Devil With The Blue Dress On" written by
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" written by Bob Dylan
Free Bird" written by Collins / Vanzandt, performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd
*"Give My Regards to Broadway" written by
George M. Cohan
*"Hell Is for Children" performed by
*"I Don't Care" Sullivan / Lennox
I Got Rhythm" George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin
I'm Waiting for the Man" written by Lou Reed
*"Look for The Silver Lining", written by
Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II
Maple Leaf Rag" composed by Scott Joplin
*"Moanin'" written by
Bobby Timmons, performed by Art Blakey
*"Mona Lisa" written by Livingston / Evans
*"Nancy (With The Laughing Face)" written by
Jimmy Van Heusen/ Phil Silvers
*"Night Moves" written by
Onward, Christian Soldiers" by Sabine Baring-Gouldand Arthur Sullivan
*"Over There" written by
George M. Cohan
*"Palm Leaf Rag" composed by
People Are Strange" written by The Doors
Pretty Vacant" written by Rotten / Matlock / Cook / Jones
Purple Haze" written and Performed by Jimi Hendrix
Say Si Si"
Sing, Sing, Sing" written by Louis Prima
*"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue"
*"Smiles" music by
Lee Roberts, lyrics by J. Will Callahan
*"Somebody Loves Me" music by
*"Somebody to Love" written by
Darby Slickand Grace Slick
*"Summertime" written by
George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin, performed by Big Brother & the Holding Company
Sweet Georgia Brown" written by Bernie / Casey / Pinkard
Take Five" performed by Dave Brubeck Quartet
*"This Train" written and performed by
Peter, Paul & Mary
*"Turn Me Loose" performed by Fabian
Up, Up and Away" written by Jimmy Webb
When The Saints Go Marching In"
*"You Send Me" written by
Cast and crew
Hilary Beane- Showgirl
Robert Beecher- Hobo #2
Gene Borkan- Izzy
Beatrice Colen- Prostitute
Frank Dekova- Crisco
Ben Frommer- Nicky Palumbo
*Jerry Holland - Louie
Roz Kelly- Eva Tanguay
Amy Levitt- Nancy
Jeffrey Lippa- Zalmie
Richard Moll- Poet
Lisa Jane Persky- Bella
Elsa Raven- Hannele
Vincent Schiavelli- Theatre Owner
Richard Singer- Benny
Marya Small- Frankie
Leonard Stone- Leo
Eric Taslitz- Little Pete
Ron Thompson- Tony/Pete
Lynda Wiesmeier- The Blonde
Ralph Bakshi- producer
Martin Ransohoff- producer
*Original Music by
*imdb title|id=0082009|title=American Pop
* [http://www.ralphbakshi.com/films.php?film=americanpop "American Pop" at Ralph Bakshi.com]
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