Fritz the Cat — It ain’t rated “X” for nuthin…”I cannot believe this hasn’t been banned yet aha! Fritz..”
Perhaps these comments, that come from YouTube, were written by people who are unaware that the X rated film made by Ralph Bakshi in 1972 called Fritz the Cat was disowned by Robert Crumb the creator of this famous cartoon cat. This feature film “bears only a superficial resemblance” to the comic stories of Fritz that he first created when he was sixteen years of age in 1959. And it is probably fair to say that it is mainly through this successful feature film that the public knows Fritz. It is not the true Fritz, however. The poster to the film says, “We’re not rated X for nothin’, baby”.
Fritz is the most famous of all the underground comic book animals4.
Background to the making of the 1972 feature film
Ralph Bakshi is a New York animator. He describes himself as a “corny guy” (meaning conventional, I presume) who was bored with conventional cartoons and says that Walt Disney paralyzed the industry. He wanted to break the mold it appears and make something new and different. He fought with Walt Disney over how cartoon features should be made. He says that today with modern technology a couple of guys can make a animated film in a year and be millionaires the next….There is real potential for anyone to use modern computer systems in this business.
He was right. Today in 2011, there are more successful animated films than ever it seems and they are more successful than “real films”. I like Ralph Bakshi but I don’t like the way he got his animated feature film Fritz the Cat off the ground. Although it appears that Ralph Crumb was cooperative and interested in the project at the beginning, he refused to grant the film rights to Steve Krantz, Bakshi’s partner on this film. Mr Crumb refused to sign the contract as he was unsure about the project. You can understand why. The film is based in Crumb’s Fritz but goes much further and in a direction that Crumb probably found distasteful.
Crumb’s Fritz is described as a “sophisticated, up-to-the-minute young feline college student”. He looks quite a decent sort of cat really (see picture, left). Not some drug crazed hedonist!
Reading between the lines it appears that Robert Crumb first created this cat cartoon character as a sort of alter ego. He did it for fun as a teenager. He was able to express his desires in a less restrictive way through an animal that he would be allowed to if he created a story around people.
“I can express something [with animals] that is different from what I put into my work about humans … I can put more nonsense, more satire and fantasy into the animals…”2
So if the smooth, slick and self assured Fritz the Cat was the kind of person that Ralph Crumb wanted to be it appears that he is quite a reserved, bookish kind of person. This is pure speculation. I don’t know him. He was born on 30 August 1943 (aged 67 at 2011) and he is also a musician.
Krantz and Bakshi obtained the film rights to Fritz the Cat by getting Dana, Crumb’s wife to sign the contract! Apparently she had a power of attorney over her husband. As this was in the early 1970s, Crumb was about 28 at the time. How the hell did his wife have a power of attorney over him? Why did he grant it? You have grant a power of attorney to someone else to act for you and it is highly unusual for someone in their 20s to do that. Crumb was paid $50k and 10% of “Krantz’s proceeds”1. Not sure what that means, probably 10% of net profit but that is a wild guess. The film grossed over $100 million worldwide – a huge success.
You have to question the method employed by Krantz and Bakshi. It does not sit very comfortably with the fact that Bakshi considered Crumb a “total genius”3. He admired him yet forced Crumb to accept a distorted version of the character he had created.
The film, as mentioned, was successful but the sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974) was not.
Fritz the Cat – the 1972 animated film
This is an “antiestablishment tract”4 combined with sex! Some people (the reactionaries!) thought it pornographic. The target audience, the young, liked it big time.
Fritz lives in an East Village pad. He is engaged in an orgy! The police arrive and Fritz escapes. The police pursue him to a synagogue where Fritz is saved by Jewish people dancing the Hora (national dance of Israel when people dance in a circle).
Fritz heads to Harlem where he hides and “makes love” (or is that “have sex”?) with Big Bertha. Fritz then leaves town with an old girlfriend, Winston and is caught up with Hells Angels, which results in a hospital visit for Fritz after the bikers attack a power plant and cause an explosion.
In hospital Fritz seduces his visitors!
Fritz the Cat, the sequel: The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974)
Fritz is married but unhappy.
Fritz daydreams while smoking grass (Marijuana).
He dreams of making love to his sister, working as Hitler’s valet, travelling to Mars and being involved in a “war between President Kissinger and black-run New Jersey”4.
The film is meant to shock.
Enough said about the real world of human behavior….what about Fritz the Cat, the character?
Well he is a legendary cat of underground comics. And, of course, a film star thanks to the success of Bakshi’s 1972 feature film.
He is a slick yet crude sex maniac. He likes drugs and removing his clothes. His world is a world of animals. Pigs feature highly it appears. I wonder if that is significant?
Fritz is a tabby cat. In the film he is a grey/brown mackerel tabby. This is the most common type of cat.
He can be sarcastic in his compliments yet sincere when talking to someone who is not the object of his affection.
When commenting on an aspiring singer, he says, “I’m paralyzed…with sheer ecstasy! I’ll just lay here an’ die quietly from too much live and joy!”4
Fitz is rejected by the lovely Della Pussywillow and he hates it. He thought her a cold hearted, phony women. I wonder if there is a bit of Ralph Crumb in that thought?
Fritz is not well read. The most sophisticated he gets is reading, 21 Different Ways to Cook and Serve the Housefly (my comment: we know that indoor cats like to chase and eat houseflies as a kind of real prey substitute).
Fritz’s past is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps because he committed incest with his sister! His background appears to be poor, however. His parents lived in a shack and he was expelled from school. He became a movie star nonetheless. Rags to riches I guess….
2. Pahls, Marty (May 2003) . “Introduction: Right Up To The Edge”. The Early Years of Bitter Struggle. The Complete Crumb Comics. Vol. 1 (third ed.). Fantagraphics Books. pp. vii; x–xi. ISBN 0930193423.
3. Cohen, Karl F (1997). “Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic”. Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.. pp. 81–84. ISBN 0-7864-0395-0.
5. Picture of Ralph Bakshi. This is published under fair use. It is a small image taken from a public video of him at a San Diego conference.
6. Picture of Robert Crumb is published under a creative commons license – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Use should be per the license.
7. Poster of the Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat is published under fair use as per the argument on the Wikipedia website.
8. Picture of the original Fritz the cat – published under fair use adopting the arguments of the Wikipedia authors.