EXCLUSIVE: Ralph Bakshi’s AMERICAN POP – Video of Historic Q&A with Actor Ron Thompson

1981 Theatrical Poster for American Pop

One of animation’s finest and most intriguing feature films remains perhaps one its greatest underrated treasures: a compelling story of four generations of musicians from a Russian Jewish immigrant family — realized with fantastic impressionistic imagery, and fused with an eclectic palette of American popular music spanning several decades: Director/Animator Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop. The film recently had a celebratory screening at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on January 12th — with actor Ron Thompson, who played Tony and Pete Belinsky: the two most prominent rolls in the film — on hand to give his first ever Q&A for the production. Thompson’s standout performances were realized via the rotoscoping process — where he first was filmed in live action, and then artists used photo blow-ups of that footage, along with his spoken dialogue, to help implement their hand drawn and hand painted animation process. Thompson gave a fascinating talk about the film’s production, and his collaborative process with Bakshi.

Here now is your “front row seat” to the event — with exclusive video of the entire Q&A!


Exclusive Video: American Pop Q&A with Actor Ron Thompson

                  Moderated by Justin Humphreysauthor of the books: Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget and the upcoming Interviews Too Shocking to Print!.


Director/Animator Ralph Bakshi in an American Pop promotional photo taken during the film’s initial release in 1981.

Director/animator Ralph Bakshi invigorated the animation world in the 70’s and 80’s with his highly stylized, and at times, provocative work. He made history with the first ever X rated animated film Fritz the Cat in 1972; created a fantastical, original sci-fi/fantasy with Wizards in 1977; embarked on the daunting task of bringing the first ever major motion picture adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to the screen in 1978 — which many advocates still prefer to this day over Peter Jackson’s live action adaption; and collaborated with sci-fi and fantasy illustrator legend Frank Frazetta on 1983’s Fire and Ice.

Actor Ron Thompson in his dual roles as (from left to right) Tony and Pete in American Pop: seen on a soundstage, and then in his animated incarnations.

American Pop was ahead of its time when released in theatres February 13th, 1981. MTV (Music Television) was still a half a year away from making its debut, and people were predominately accustomed to seeing animation in the form of Saturday morning cartoons — along with retrospective screenings of vintage Disney films and shorts, as well as those from Warner Brothers and the like. While it received moderate attention at the time of its theatrical release, most first encountered American Pop on Cinemax and HBO in the years following, where the film was shown on occasion, and steadily built a following. The film wouldn’t see an official release on VHS and laserdisc until 1998 — due to the fact that the rights for the music in the film hadn’t initially been negotiated for a home video release; and the DVD release finally came to fruition in 2010. On a pop culture note: Kanye West paid homage to American Pop in the video for his hit 2008 song: “Heartless” — emulating the animated look and style of American Pop, and recreating similar scenes and settings from the film.

Bakshi’s and Thompson’s work in American Pop truly made for a unique and significant cinematic experience — and now coming full circle, they recently collaborated again on an upcoming animated project: Last Days of Coney Island — which will debut this summer.

 – Jay West

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