Tales Of The Rat Fink

2006, Movie, NR, 75 mins


If you think there's anything remotely original about "Pimp My Ride," you'll dig this colorful and suitably gonzo documentary. It opens with a Tom Wolfe quote that deems the automobile "the only uniquely American art form" (sorry, jazz), and charts the improbable career of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, king of post-WWII custom-car culture. Returning GIs who acquired a need for speed in European motor pools began souping up inexpensive prewar cars that were being supplanted by the shiny new models once again rolling out of Detroit. They raced their retooled dragsters across dry lake beds outside Los Angeles and down the asphalt strips of L.A.'s new freeways; their enthusiasm quickly caught on with that new phenomenon called the teenager, who wanted to do more in his Chevrolet than see the U.S.A. In the late '40s and early '50s, the driving age in California was only 14, and kids all over the U.S. were soon customizing their own junkers and organizing often-illegal street drag races. High-school parking lots became showrooms and car shows became beauty pageants as owners, eager to distinguish themselves in an era of Eisenhower conformity, began adding customized grills; funky gear-shift balls; and chrome, chrome, chrome. Following the lead of pioneering-pinstriper Von Dutch, Roth began customizing speed machines with swirling lines, scallops and painted flames, helping them look fast even when standing stock still. When his business outgrew his garage, Roth opened up a shop with Bud "The Baron" Crozier, and when kids asked him to paint the names of their car clubs across their plain white T-shirts, Roth went them one better and unleashed the cartoon beast that helped make him world-famous: Rat Fink, a dirty, flyblown, bug-eyed, green rat who was both Roth's anti-Mickey Mouse and the embodiment of his twisted id. Narrated by Roth himself (well, actually, John Goodman, who channels the voice and spirit of Roth, who died in 2001), the film also chronicles his automotive innovations — the 1960 creation he named "The Outlaw" was the first to sport a fiberglass body — and his contribution to model-car kits. (Ravell's "Outlaw" model was a hot seller.) Filmmaker Ron Mann, who previously explored the cultural import of a dance craze (TWIST) and marijuana (GRASS), is most interested in Roth as a mirror of '50s and '60s youth culture, and his film is a nonstop cavalcade of Roth-style animation starring Rat Fink, vintage footage, artfully animated black-and-white film, and fanciful "interviews" with beautifully preserved cars of the era. (After all, Roth declares that each car should be a story in itself.) Naturally, the camera lingers long and lovingly over every curve and bit of chrome, and Big Daddy Roth wouldn't have had it any other way. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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Tales Of The Rat Fink
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