Friday, September 23, 2005

High on Fire: Fire and Ice (1983)

I was never a big Frank Frazetta fan when I was a teenager. Strange, since I loved heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost, Venom, and all the other putrid, diseased, full-on scavengers of noise and death that appropriated fantasy art for their record and CD covers. With that much leather, spikes, and bullet-belts on display, you’d think that my aesthetic taste would have veered toward the muscular phantasmagoria of Frazetta’s work. But you know what? It all seemed a little over-the-top and silly for me. I was all about Bosch, Dali, Bacon, and Giger at that time. Though I admired his work on a technical level, Frazetta’s paintings of big, buxom women and savage he-men was too much of a suspension of disbelief for my skinny, white, six-foot suburban ass.

Now, years later, I understand. I get it and damn, if I don’t love Frazetta’s superb fantasy illustrations and paintings. His work is strange, seductive, majestic, and violent with drama and action. Frazetta is our modern-day Rembrandt fueled on steroids and LSD. Unfortunately, because the fine art world snubs painters and illustrators who choose to work in the genre of the fantastique or who are popular to the masses, artists like Frazetta, Giger, and countless others are disregarded as mere hacks. A sad tragedy indeed. Because when Frazetta is gone, the world will lose one of the greatest commercial artists who ever lived. Hell, one of the greatest artists, period.

Back in 1983, animation director Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Wizards, American Pop) collaborated with Frazetta to produce a full-length feature film that would showcase both their talents to the highest degree and further their mutual love of fantasy and epic action. Fire and Ice was the result, and though the final product was far from perfect and doesn’t honestly deliver the goods when it comes to translating Frazetta’s work to celluloid, there is still plenty to admire and enjoy. Set within the lost mists of history, in a primordial age where brute strength and barbarism dominates all, the film’s streamlined plot focuses on the evil Nekron—an albino prince whose kingdom resides within massive glaciers from the north and who rules over a savage race of subhumans—and his will to overthrow the kingdoms of the south. Toss in a voluptuous kidnapped princess, the requisite solemn hero who must avenge his fellow villagers who were unfortunate enough to be crushed by Nekron’s forces, a mysterious masked rider named Darkwolf, and you have the ingredients for an afternoon of heavy metal fantasies and escapism. I really wish the plot could’ve been more complex and less accommodating to the clich├ęs of the sword & sorcery genre, and the dialogue, though sparse, is really awful, but the film more than makes up for its inadequacies with loads of swift action and psychedelic animation. It’s not perfect by any means, and it’s obvious that Bakshi was hampered by a low budget, but Fire and Ice should satiate the twelve-year-old in us all who has never ceased from wanting to answer the riddle of steel.

The 2-disc limited edition DVD, released by Blue Underground, also contains the even better—in fact thoroughly superb—documentary, Frazetta: Painting with Fire (2003), directed by Lance Laspina. Filled with numerous interviews with colleagues, family members, as well as the man himself, Painting with Fire is a loving tribute to the master and his work. Even people who have no interest in this type of fantasy art should find the film fascinating and will perhaps go away with a much better understanding of why Frazetta’s work will continue to enchant generations to come.


Satan said...

Great review. I've always walked by it in the video store. I don't know why, because I love Bakshi and Frazetta. I'll have to try and find it now.
Speaking of Bakshi, have you ever seen Streetfight, aka Coonskin? It's kind of like SONG OF THE SOUTH crossed with SHAFT. It's pretty fuckin' awesome. Scatman Crothers provides the voice for one of the characters and sings the opening song. It can be kind of hard to find, because it was boycotted by the Congress of Racial Equality.

Derek said...

No, I haven't seen it. But I'll certainly be on the look-out for it. Thanks for the info.

Derek said...

Oh . . . and I'm glad you enjoyed the review, man.