So remember when I was going to review ten shorts in one month? Man, I was young then. Anyway, part of the reason Shortstember came to a screeching halt after we covered the sixties was that finding a theatrical animated short released in the seventies is kind of like trying to find a shoe cobbler in 2016. Oh, they still exist. But they’re rare, boy. They are damn rare. By fortunate chance however, today’s short manages to be the absolute apotheosis of everything you think about when you hear the words “seventies animation”. It’s like they squeezed that entire decade of animation history into these six and a half minutes.
Tom Waits for No One was basically a job resume. Directors John Lamb and Bruce Lyon wanted to sell their Lyon Lamb Video Rotoscope technology to Ralph Bakshi, and created the short as a demonstration of what it could do. This probably explains why I can tell you that Ralph Bakshi did not create this short and you still won’t believe me. Hell, I’m not sure I believe me. It’s the Bakshiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s also a little NSFW, just so’s you know.
So the short begins at night on a scuzzy street somewhere in America (where? Who knows, the song references places in LA, New York and San Francisco) and we hear some cool, smoky saxophone and the growl of a Balrog, a creature of fire and smoke that resides in the bowels of Middle Earth, the most fearsome of Morgath’s legions…oh wait.
The story, such as it is, has Tom growling a stream of consciousness about the dregs of society stewing in a haze of drunken regret and broken dreams to an exotic dancer (Donna Gordon), who materializes out of his cigarette smoke. Because…what else do you think happens when Tom Waits smokes a cigarette?
She strips for him, but then, just as Tom thinks he might be getting some action, a limo pulls up and she gets in and drives away.
Lyon and Lamb filmed almost fifteen hours of footage of Waits and Gordon from which they painted over 5,500 cels to produce the final short. Bakshi doesn’t appear to have taken them up of the technology but it did win them both a technical achievement Oscar and first prive at the Hollywood Erotic Film and Video Festival. it’s also notable as being quite possibly the first animated music video. After that it vanished into near total obscurity before being rediscovered on You Tube a few years ago.
As for the animation itself, it’s…not really for me. Rotoscoping has always had an element of the Uncanny Valley as far as I’m concerned and the lip synching at times is quite poor. At the same time, there’s really very little point in criticizing something like this on technical matters when it also happens to be the single coolest thing that has ever been created.