Friday, May 10, 2019

Rock and Rule

Clive A. Smith

Prior to anime becoming mainstream in Western culture, there was a serious dearth of so-called ‘adult-animation.’ With the advent of underground comix in the 1960s and Heavy Metal magazine appearing on North American shelves in 1977, a flavor of more adult (not necessarily more mature) graphic fiction became popular. Ralph Bakshi brought the sensibilities of comix into the animated form and Heavy Metal spawned an animated film in 1980. Darker tales in western animation never caught on in the way Japanese animation would eventually succeed at, but that didn’t stop the occasional attempt. Enter Rock and Rule, a film that attempts a darker story without the excesses of Heavy Metal.

An opening text explains that the story begins post World War III with mutated street animals now the dominant life-form. Rock and roll superstar Mok (Don Francks) is searching for a voice that will form part of a key. That key will unlock the door to another dimension and allow a being to come through that will grant him unlimited power. The voice in question belongs to Angel (Susan Roman), singer and keyboardist of a garage band. Mok kidnaps Angel and takes her Nuke York, leaving her bandmates Omar (Paul Le Mat, ),  Dizzy (Dan Hennessey), and Stretch (Greg Duffell) to try and rescue her.

Typical Canadians.
The story itself is very simple, but I don’t see that as a flaw. In terms of world-building, there is a lot to take in here, so keeping the story sparse keeps things from feeling too rushed. The story flirts with death, sex, and drugs but it never crosses over into anything beyond a PG rating. It is interesting to note that in the American cut actually makes the end slightly darker than the original Canadian edit, usually it seems the opposite would be true.

Rock and Rule features some beautiful hand-drawn animation. There is an expressive rubberiness that computer-based animation can rarely ever replicate. The animation is usually very fluid and there are some good looking rotoscoped character moments. The camera is constantly moving through and around its environment. The large scale painted background plates show some impressive design work. The character designs are more of a mixed bag, for every really wonderful looking character (Mok), there is a truly awkward one (Omar).

"Don't laugh this is only way I can achieve an erection."
For a film about music,  the sound editing and design are not as successful. Most of the musical numbers are best, acceptable. The notable standouts being Lou Reed’s, “Mok,” and Earth, Wind, and Fire’s, “Dance Dance Dance.” The dialogue feels disjointed, it often seems like characters aren’t really interacting with each other, much of this is due to Omar’s voice actor being replaced and his dialog changed which creates odd pauses here and there.

It might sound like I am being unkind to this film, but most of these issues are quirks rather than flaws. They don’t detract from the film so much as give it a texture and a personality that reminds the viewer that there were human hands behind its creation. Rock and Rule is a weird little piece of cult animation that offers such a unique experience and an interesting snapshot of where animation, music, and pop-culture were in 1983 that is very much worth your time checking out.

No comments:

Post a Comment