5-Word 365 #091 – Frazetta

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.

Frazetta – Painting With Fire

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.

“Princess of Mars” by Frank Frazetta. The cover for the book that would later become Disney’s John Carter.

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.

The Frank and Ralph Show – the early years

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.


  1. Frank Frazetta JR · April 3, 2012

    I will be releasing a book pertaining to my fathers life based on the father figure more-so than the artist himself. It will be an inside look, who he was behind the artist that no one other than a handfull of other fortunate individuals have had the pleasure to experience. It will be 95 % favorable with little content on his few down sides. He was a private individual that enjoyed his family and freedom about the land in PA. He had few negative points or characteristics, that is the truth. So you can dig or think he must be a crazy S>O>B or something, but pretty much as far from the truth as possible. He was tight with his money as a younger man only because he had little growing up or his parents took all of it to feed the local neighborhood. He enjoyed searching out a deal from a pawn shop. Simply knowing why spend the xtra $$$ when this used one is as good as the one in the box. But as he grew older he became less reluctant to hold back on purchases other than a new automobile. But I hope to have it released by Christmas, 2012. Thank you, Frank Frazetta JR

    • Ryan McNeely · April 4, 2012

      Thanks for the comment, Frank. The book sounds interesting. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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