Ralph Bakshi’s office at Cool Productions in Burbank, Calif., is like an attic rec room for teenagers — large, messy, and cluttered with worn furniture. There are sketches and full-color urban landscapes from his upcoming live-action/ animation movie, Cool World, taped on the walls. Bakshi, 53, sits on a funky brown couch, wheezing, drinking coffee, and firing up Marlboro Lights. Every time the timid voice of one of his hip young minions comes from around the corner, Bakshi bellows, ”What?!” until he gets an answer he can stand to hear.
Ask this director of 11 mostly animated films for grown-ups, including Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and American Pop, if you can see footage from Cool World — his first feature in more than nine years — and he barks in a Brooklyn-accented lisp, ”Why not? Talk is cheap.”
It may be cheap, but with Bakshi, it’s good. ”People use the words burn out a lot — I did 10 movies and I got burnt out. F—ing ridiculous. I did 10 movies, made a lot of money, decided to paint and not worry about it.”
Bakshi came back to Hollywood after almost a decade in New York partly because Mick Jagger asked him to direct the Stones’ 1986 ”Harlem Shuffle” video (also part live action, part animation). And because he started selling some of his artwork. ”I got frightened,” he says about his success as a painter, ”and I ran here.”
But Hollywood is not an easy refuge. ”I used to do $4 million movies,” says Bakshi. ”That was my highest. Fritz only cost $750,000. This one is $26, $27 million. I don’t know what happened.”
One thing that happened was the skyrocketing salaries of stars like Cool World‘s Kim Basinger. Bakshi didn’t want to hire a big name to play opposite her as a 1940s detective — the role went to Brad Pitt before his success in Thelma & Louise. ”Paramount wanted Matt Dillon, who’s also great,” Bakshi says. ”But Brad was somebody who could have run with me in the ’50s.” Bakshi drags on his Marlboro. ”We’re running now,” he says with a wheezy laugh, ”but he goes faster.”