Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

Life in False Faces

Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin is a kind of satire one doesn't often see, particularly not within the last twenty years. To be sure, there were plenty of people when it was released in 1975 that thought the film was racist, who took it as precisely the sort of thing it was mocking, which is often how unimaginative people take satire. It's for that reason satire is usually very broad--One has to be able to easily follow the line of logic that Stephen Colbert's obsession with himself is an absurd exaggeration of Bill O'Reilly's egotism, or Peter Griffin's infantile stupidity mocks the way men in sitcoms are written as broadly stupid, which in turn is a satire on typical American men.

But while Coonskin has several examples of brilliant, very straight forward satires of logic, like the various attempts of black characters to placate "Miss America," manifested as a buxom white woman wearing only red white and blue paint, the bits I enjoyed the most were what seemed to be satires by way of dream logic. The mafia boss's wife who goes through a metamorphosis when she's fatally shot from old woman, to beautiful young fairy, to moth.

I understand a lot of the movie riffs off of black American folk tales, most of which I'm unfamiliar with--I only recognised the bits from Song of the South, nicely parodied with the protagonists Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Brother Fox. So I don't know how much of the fascinatingly weird stuff is references to folk tales I don't know. I loved the isolated, short segment about the single mother who tells stories about loving a cockroach and a rat.

The movie's nightmarish at times, not just because of the strange and violent imagery. The fact that it's never been released on DVD and is only available in a rather weathered form gives it the feel of something buried in the cemetery of American consciousness, the footage too dark and the black characters, drawn and coloured in likeness of racist caricatures, frequently disappear into photographed backgrounds.

There are garish invocations of basic human ugliness and one gets the impression of human souls in pain, forced to inhabit the grotesque cartoons.


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