Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Down and Dirty Duck" - Blast from the '70s Past

No, This is Not for Everyone

Down and Dirty Duck
Dirty Duck and his mother.

WARNING - this has crude sexualized drawings and language, so is not suitable for everyone! Proceed at your Own Risk.

"Down and Dirty Duck," a 1974 full-length animated film directed by Charles Swenson, is about as weird as animation gets. It definitely is not for everyone. What it does illustrate is raw creativity that probably was as much drug-fueled as it was the product of natural inspiration. However, there is so much sly humor that it's hard not to find chuckles throughout.

While many folks assume that all old animation was created for children, in fact, there was a large proportion that made no bones about being directly strictly at adults. You do not have to be Einstein to "get" the sexual innuendo, but it probably helps to have passed puberty. Ralph Bakshi is the most famous animator in the field with his notorious "Fritz the Cat," but he was far from the only one.

The plot is a kind of "Walter Mitty" riff in which humdrum office worker Willard Eisenbaum fantasizes about assorted adventures and retaliations he takes as he puts up with the petty irritations of his life at his insurance sweatshop. Finally, he meets "Dirty Duck" and things get even weirder, taking him away from all ... this.

The duck is a kind of Bizarro-world wise-guy Donald Duck who is as offensive as the real one is inoffensive, a creature as shallow as Willard's ego. It all appears to be Willard's drug-induced nightmare that pokes fun at just about all the "rule-breaking" of the day, sexualized iconography mixed in with common commercial slogans because that was the true language of the day, the new vernacular imposed by industrial America which understood that "sex sells." Or, at least, that appears to be one interpretation of what "Down and Dirty Duck' is trying to say, it is so disjointed that it could be saying any number of things depending upon what you bring into it. Another interpretation is that it simply illustrates how crazy the world had become for any number of reasons, and Willard was simply having a natural reaction rejecting it.

Dirty Duck himself is kind of the stereotypical hipster cool dude of the day, only interested in instantaneous self-gratification and talking everyone else into doing what he wants. He is replete with alternating sexual ambiguity and self-consciousness that reflects a soul completely adrift in a drug-fueled hyper-reality that was sort of the ultimate in the counterculture, people rejecting the norm but having nothing to replace it beyond flim-flam symbolism and popular culture overdoses. He succeeds in "raising the consciousness" of dull Willard, which apparently involves a lot of tap dancing.

Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention (Mark Volman ("Flo") & Howard Kaylan ("Eddie") of "Flo and Eddie" and "The Turtles") had something to do this, and apparently contributed the music and some of the voices. Anyone familiar with Frank and the Mothers should know where that is going to lead. The music is awesome and apparently was created especially for this animation.

The animation is spare and highly reminiscent of The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," with a decidedly sleazy cast to it. There's even a sorcerer involved, though why is kind of a mystery, and John and Yoko even make appearances, with "Dirty Duck" yelling "Shut up, Yoko!" The Richard Nixon image in the bathroom mirror also is pretty timeless, as is probably the worst (or best, I think it's fantastic) John Wayne impersonation ever by the highly talented Robert "Bob" Ridgely (The Colonel in "Boogie Nights"). There's just a lot of topical humor that anyone familiar with the times will find priceless today. The further in, the weirder it gets, so if you aren't enjoying this as you go along - it isn't going to get any better. Or worse, if you enjoy this.

There were many films that were found "conducive" to watching while stoned: "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" are near the top of that particular list. "Down and Dirty Duck" was of the limited genre specifically designed to cater to that discriminating audience.

If you want a modern reference to all this anarchic madness, clue in on the background radio announces in the "Vice City" video game series. They start of seemingly normal, then gradually become off-kilter and finally downright perverse. That's "Down and Dirty Duck."

There are some adult words and references throughout and crudely drawn sexual organs, so if you find that sort of thing offensive, no reason to annoy yourself by watching it. Any sexuality is more comic and overblown than prurient, anyone "turned on" by this has bigger issues than "Dirty Duck." There also are some racial stereotypes of the day that hopefully show how far we've come in forty years. Overall, there's probably something in "Down and Dirty Duck" to offend just about anyone,  and that's now our goal here, so if you are the type to be easily offended, we have lots of great reviews of Disney films for you to find over on the right.


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