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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Tales of the Rat Fink
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by Doug Bentin

"Rat Fink Lives!"
4 stars

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the subject of the documentary “Tales of the Rat Fink,” was a designer of custom cars in the 1950s and ‘60s. Now, I wish I had a dollar each for all the readers browsing this review who, since they have no interest in custom cars, think they wouldn’t get anything out of watching the film. For me, the most interesting thing about it was the way it demonstrated how one aspect of pop culture can feed others, even when they seem to have nothing in common.

John Goodman gives voice to Roth and his once famous creation, Rat Fink—the name borrowed from a phrase made popular on the Steve Allen TV show—that Roth thought of as the “anti-Mickey Mouse.” Mickey, for many of the GIs returning from WW II, represented everything that was conformist and unhip about post-war America. The guys who had spent much of the war in military motor pools loved to tinker with cars, buying twenty year old clunkers, tearing them down and rebuilding them as hot rods.

Roth, who claimed he flunked every subject in school but auto shop and art, was too young to have been in the war, but he knew how the hot rodders felt—weird, outside the mainstream, and willing to live fast and die young.

The hot rod culture developing in southern California welcomed Roth and thousands like him. Hot rod racing became the latest fad, but it got so dangerous the police did all they could to get it off the streets. The Santa Ana Drag Strip opened in 1952 and the change from hot rod racing to drag racing was completed.

A fella called Von Dutch became the first to hand paint pin striping on cars, and Roth joined him with the idea of custom painting the entire vehicle. As film director Ron Mann shows us Roth’s surviving work in auto museums, writer Solomon Vesta puts words in the mouths, uh, grills, of the cars. The customs are given voice by Ann-Margaret, Paul Le Mat, Matt Groening, Jay Leno, Tom and Dick Smothers, Robert Williams, Brian Wilson, Tom Wolfe, and others. You may not recognize Williams but he was one of the first artists to work with Roth and he went on to become a celebrated painter.

So why should you care about Roth’s wild car creations? As car clubs developed, members wore their club logos on leather jackets, but in California it was too hot to wear any kind of jacket so Roth began silk screening the logos, often with a caricature of the wearer, on t-shirts. Tees with a message was an industry created by Ed Roth.

Revell toymakers asked Roth to create a line of model kits featuring his bizarro custom designs, so he got into the toy business. He began to customize skateboards. He influenced writers and other cartoonists—Tom Wolfe called him the Dali of the automotive set, and Bart Simpson is a direct descendant of Rat Fink.

Roth was also the first guy to use fiberglass to shape car body parts into the forms he saw in his head. He was a truly inventive innovator hiding behind a kid-friendly, weird uncle persona.

Roth, even if you never saw the man, was ubiquitous in the pop culture of the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Then, the fad changed when the Beatles came to America and, as the film tells us, kids quit using their garages to tune their cars and started using them to tune their guitars.

Director Mann uses vintage film clips and photos, recreations, and simple animation to tell what turned out to be the fascinating story of a man who was once as famous as Capt. Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Maynard G. Krebs, or Vampira, and much more influential than any of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13854&reviewer=405
originally posted: 11/15/06 17:24:17
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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.

User Comments

10/23/09 brian All style, no substance; flashy animation wears thin quickly, story can't sustain interest. 1 stars
12/31/06 Will Roth's "Confessions" book is more informative and entertaining. This movie is a P.O.S! 1 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Tends to ramble throughout Roth's career. Nice, but better suited for TV viewing. 3 stars
10/14/06 Mickey Too much filler and too little important information on Ed Roth. Also, bad animation. 1 stars
9/22/06 rob incredible film. Lots of fun. 5 stars
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  DVD: 31-Oct-2006



Directed by
  Ron Mann

Written by
  Solomon Vesta

  John Goodman
  Brian Wilson
  Jay Leno
  Tom Wolfe

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