"An amusing look at the life and legacy of Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth"
SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Director Ron Mann is known for creating some of the most fun documentaries around. And Tales of the Rat Fink is no exception -- it's one of the most visually interesting and engaging nonfiction films I've seen.Ed "Big Daddy" Roth is a hero of automobile fans everywhere -- he invented the customized car and was an invaluable contributor to the hot rod craze of the 1950's and 60's. His anti-Mickey Mouse character the Rat Fink, among his other cartoon monster creations, symbolized his renegade spirit and the nasty little rat proceeded to become a television show icon with its own theme song and everything. Roth is also credited with kickstarting the trend of personalized t-shirts, skateboards, and the like.
Roth's genius saw that every car could be a piece of art, not just a carbon copy of the next one over and after he painted stylish flames onto his buddie's vehicles for an extra buck, he eventually started up his own business, which spawned a whole new automotive industry.
Mann has an obvious affection for Roth, as the obnoxious Rat Fink is our guide into Roth's life and Roth's own model cars help to tell his story. The green, bristly, raucous Rat Fink with his exaggerated ears is brought to life onscreen and actors like Ann-Margaret and Jay Leno contribute voice-overs as Roth's cars, explaining how they came to be and slyly adding in details to the overall biography. John Goodman plays Roth; he's never onscreen (none of the cast is), but his retelling of Roth's life from a first-person point of view gives Tales of the Rat Fink an enjoyably personal effect.
Tales of the Rat Fink is almost entirely animated and it's a very watchable film because of it. I'm not sure I'd be all that interested in the subject matter if it weren't for such an endlessly creative presentation. Mann's playful approach is incredibly suitable for his subject and for that alone I find Tales of the Rat Fink to be a very successful documentary.
Tales of the Rat Fink sets out to highlight the life of a rebel entrepreneur that a lot of people either forgot or never knew about and it does just that. Mann merely glances at Roth's personal life but honestly, I didn't care about that -- Roth's public life and artistic aspirations were new and plenty substantive for me. It's all enough to make you long for that golden age of customized cars and wonder if Roth was one of the last truly original industrialists in recent memory.If you're a car fan, Tales of the Rat Fink will be quite a treat but even if you're not, it'll be a cool viewing experience still and all the more edifying.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.