Once again we are back to a Saturday, which means it’s documentary time. Since this is the end of week 13 it also means that I am now one quarter of the way through the year. After last week, I thought I’d go for another biography film. So, here it is.
Or: “Harry Knowles’ favourite film”
The life of artist Frank Frazetta as told by interviews with his friends and other artists, as well as the man himself and his family. Conan ensues.
The first thing you notice when you put this doc on is the production value, or lack thereof. It is clear this was a low-budget production – a fact borne out by several repeat appearances of names in the end credits – which means it was a labour of love. Director Lance Laspina is obviously a huge fan of Frazetta. Before I watched this, I knew as much about Frazetta as probably the average man on the street. I was always a film geek from when I was a child, which meant I was more of a Drew Struzan nut than a Frazetta fan. I never went through that fantasy geek stage of Robert E Howard or Orson Scott Card books, or Warhammer or any of that stuff. I had only heard Frazetta’s name mentioned through the filter of my film geekery. Sure, I knew that Conan painting (see the poster above) and I was familiar with the style of art he was creating but I wasn’t a devotee. Now I am. The quality of work this man was capable of producing and the speed at which he produced it was simply mind-blowing. Plus I had never really considered how significant he was. According to this film, an entire generation of fantasy artists and filmmakers have been influenced directly by his work.
There is one drawback however with having a life story told by a fan, or indeed a parade of fans, which is that the result will always be favourable. I got the impression that anyone who sat down in front of the camera and said that Frank was an asshole would have been cut from the film. Of course, I’m not saying he was an asshole, but the whole tone of this film is one of tribute and celebration as opposed to an unbiased look at the man’s life and work. Maybe I’m just a cynic or maybe it’s just the world we live in, but after an hour and a half of people telling me how wonderful a man is in every aspect of his life, I start to wonder what he’s hiding.
Technically, the film is let down a little by its obvious budget limitations. The interviews are mostly fine – shot on a static camera with Frazetta’s artworks being superimposed over bare backgrounds – but there are some outdoor sequences that look like they were shot on a home video camcorder, with sound quality to match. In the finest comic-book movie tradition though, you should stick around for the post-credits sting featuring the other star of the flick: Mr Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi’s interview segments differ from all the others in that he was sitting on a bench next to Frazetta himself at the time, and you can really see the affection these two Brooklyn boys had for each other as they banter back and forth. The whole thing has made me want to track down Fire And Ice, the rotoscoped animation they made together back in the early eighties.
This film was made in 2003. Frank Frazetta sadly died on 10 May 2010, less than a year after his wife Ellie. For the artist he was, he deserves to be remembered.