Nobody has been more responsible for increasing the exposure of clay animator Bruce Bickford in recent years than filmmaker Brett Ingram. His 2004 documentary about Bickford, Monster Road, received wide acclaim on the film festival circuit and frequent play on the Sundance Channel stoking interest in Bickford's stop-motion animation. Now, Ingram's one-man company, Bright Eye Pictures, is releasing Bickford's 28-minute short Prometheus' Garden to coincide with the DVD re-release of Monster Road.
Prometheus' Garden takes its title from the Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus. Like the mythological figure, the short's protagonist is a benign figure who creates intelligent beings from clay. The beings he creates then create other beings, and they do the same, and so on.
Though his creation evolves without his further intervention, the protagonist continues to exercise some benevolent influence. On occasion he mends the injured, aids the weak, and slays the evil. However, his most important role is that of observer. The protagonist is the only continuity in a story that's constantly shifting. As he navigates a dangerous and hostile world, we viewers tag along.
This release of Prometheus' Garden includes the foreboding, but repetitive original score, as well as a new, very dynamic score by Laird Dixon which better captures the full range of mood within Prometheus' Garden.
Shot on 16mm film and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, Prometheus' Garden looks satisfactory. There are occasional scratches and dirt on the print, but nothing that distracts from the quality of the content.
The audio for this DVD makes great use of the limits of 2.0. The original score sounds fine with no noticeable dropouts or distortions, but the new score really shines, and is mixed to maximize play between the speakers on Laird Dixon's enjoyable score.
The commentary track by Bruce Bickford is oddly compelling in its idiosyncratic literalness. Mostly its direct reporting on what we're seeing (e.g., "replacement heads, [pause] and a tin foil woman, [pause], paper cut out replacement figure" or "that's the tangled bank where stuff comes oozing out"). When the commentary does stray beyond direct reporting, it generally goes to the motivation of the characters or to aspects of the fantasy that aren't apparent (e.g., "those girls wear those vines and they have a little pouch attached to the belt that has earth in it so that the roots of the vines are in that earth and the vine is kept living and they can become the same temperature as the vine which will make them invisible to the mercenaries in the forest who are hunting them"). Occasionally Bickford gets really involved and talks to the clay figures in the film as much as to the viewers (e.g., "You feed them you rascal. Here take this paint brush, put the goop on them and turn them into a pizza. All it takes is a little dab of paint off the thing and it causes a chain reaction, and it makes a pizza big enough to feed a whole bunch of those chimeras and werewolves"). Like the art itself, much of the commentary probably comes across even better to those in an altered state of consciousness (e.g., "And now that's a Viking sauna lodge, and after they get warmed up enough by the steam, they'll get some of their Vaseline chalices and the Vaseline is like the spice in Dune it does something good for them. It can make someone feel good or at least get people interested in stuff but you don't want to get too interested in this stuff because if you get overly involved you might not be able to resist getting sucked into the scene"). Bickford is utterly engrossing.
Also included is the short Luck of a Foghorn by Brett Ingram which uses extracts and outtakes from Monster Road to create a new 28-minute documentary focusing on the making of Prometheus' Garden. Laird Dixon's score for Prometheus' Garden is used here as well, and this accounts for the identical runtimes of the two.
Finally, there's also a trailer for Monster Road.
Prometheus' Garden defies easy interpretation because even Bickford doesn't know or can't articulate what it means. In the commentary track he merely says, "It's all very vague. I mean, don't ask me what's going on here. The whole idea was just to keep animating." It could be that he's just being evasive, but I don't think so. I believe that Prometheus' Garden really is outsider art directed largely by Bickford's subconscious compulsions. As such, I find Bickford and his art thoroughly fascinating.