Monster Road (2004) is a tightly-focused, almost claustrophobic, examination of the life and work of outsider artist Bruce Bickford. With the exception of three years in the Marines, the 61-year-old seems to have done little but pursue his art with supreme devotion.
Bruce Bickford's artistic obsession is clay animation, a form of stop-motion animation in which malleable clay figures and objects are arranged on a set, and then filmed for typically two frames, after which the figures and objects are moved slightly, whereupon the cycle repeats. When the frames are run at film speed (24 frames per second) the slight movements of the clay figures and objects are interpreted by the mind as continuous motion. To make a three-minute clay animation short using this method requires 2160 different arrangements, or what's called stops. Bickford's most elaborate short, the 28-minute Prometheus' Garden (1988) required more than 20,000 stops, but even to describe it in terms of so many thousand stops doesn't begin to hint at the time involved because Bickford's animation doesn't just revolve around a handful of figures and objects on a fixed set. Rather, his dioramas often involve dozens of discrete figures and objects, with everything including the set itself in motion and frequently morphing from one thing to another.
Bickford's home studio houses thousands upon thousands of clay figures and objects that he's created. It's mind-boggling to consider the time that went into the work. Bickford has at his fingertips a physical record of how he's spent a lifetime's labor.
Though Bickford's art is wide ranging, the most common theme is violence. Much of Bickford's animation involves struggle, torture, mutilation, and murder. It frequently walks the line between boyish fantasy and fetishistic depravity. When assessing his own work, Bickford is untroubled because the torturers and murderers are themselves always tortured and murdered, and in the end, no evil deed goes unpunished.
Filmmaker Brett Ingram provides a good sense of the scope and nature of Bickford's work through close inspection of a sampling of the storage shelves in Bickford's home studio and through excerpts of many of Bickford's animated shorts. Ingram also provides an engaging exploration of the personality behind the obsession through interviews with Bickford and his father, who is himself a fascinating character.
Monster Road is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Shot on DV, the interlaced image suffers from ghosting, though the excerpts of Bickford's own 16mm films generally looks very good.
The 2.0 audio sounds very good considering that filmmaker Brett Ingram relied principally upon the camera microphone for recording dialogue. Audio is clear and the score by Shark Quest is lively.
There are no subtitles offered on this release.
Extras include seven deleted scenes, excerpts from seven of Bickford's sketch animations, a trailer for this film and also trailers for Prometheus' Garden, and Luck of a Foghorn, and the 40-minute score by Shark Quest as downloadable MP3s.
Filmmaker Brett Ingram offers a fascinating look at clay animator Bruce Bickford's life and art. Fans of documentaries about obsessive artists such as Crumb, In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger, and The Devil and Daniel Johnston, will find much to like in Monster Road.