American Pop Image

Blast through the history of 20th century America in director Ralph Bakshi’s animated masterpiece American Pop. The highly ambitious script by the great Ronni Kern spans eight decades, following four generations of a Russian Jewish family through the black forests of show biz. Little Zalmie (Marcello Krakoff) and his mother flee the Cossacks in Russia for the slums of New York. There Zalmie meets Louie (Jerry Holland), who works the Vaudeville halls pushing songs. The little boy helps out, learning English and making money until tragedy leaves him orphaned.

Zalmie takes to the stage as a child singer to make ends meet, but he eventually outgrows his voice, which is further ruined by a wound in the first World War. After a failed career as a comic, an older Zalmie (Jeffrey Lippa) falls in love with Bella (Lisa Jane Persky), a showgirl that he tries to turn into a singer. He then enters into the bootleg booze side of the club business and gets tied up with organized crime. His son Benny (Rick Singer) grows up as a savant on the piano and is married into a mafia through arrangements by Zalmie.

“…spans eight decades, following four generations of a Russian Jewish family through the black forests of show biz.”

American Pop then picks up with Benny not returning from World War II. His son, Tony (Ron Thompson), now grows up during the 1950s restless and disillusioned. Fleeing west, he ends up in California during the 60s, writing song lyrics for Frankie (Mews Small) and her band. He also helps score drugs for them, eventually getting himself strung out of heroin. A tragic concert tour stop in the midwest puts Tony face to face with his son, Little Pete (Eric Taslitz), who Tony never knew existed.

Pete idolizes his junkie father and wants to write songs too. He tries to take care of Tony, who in return drags him through the narcotic jungle Pete eventually learns to dominate. Once grown, Pete (Ron Thompson) becomes a top dope dealer in the New York punk club era with designs on breaking through as a rock superstar. Will Pete get to achieve the goals of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather or will the American dream claim another victim?

American Pop (1981)

Directed: Ralph Bakshi

Written: Ronni Kern

Starring: Jeffrey Lippa, Jerry Holland, Rick Singer, Ron Thompson, Lisa Jane Persky, Marcello Krakoff, Eric Taslitz, Mews Small, etc.

Movie score: 10/10

American Pop Image

"…Bakshi hit higher than he aimed and created a cinematic wonder."

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  1. Karl says:

    Bakshi was making adult features before Fritz the Cat. Coonskin (AKA Streetfight) is my favorite of his movies, brutal commentary on racism starring Barry White, Scatman Crothers, and a very young Phillip Michael Thomas. Heavy Traffic was also an earlier work based on his life as a struggling young artist in New York. It’s Ok, but if you’re a Bakshi fan you’d shouldn’t miss these early works.

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