Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dionysus' Garden

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I mean, it was a complete crap day from the beginning.... a dull throbbing ache suffused all throughout my body, headache, sore muscles - the whole 9 yards. Aspirin proved about as effective as throwing a bucket of water on a raging fire. My rythyms were all out of sync.... I felt like I was sinking in quicksand or walking through molasses.... I'm sure you know what I mean. We've all had these days. You walk around looking miserable and saying things like "It just isn't my day". And when I got to work it intensified, as high pressure has a way of doing.

I seemed to be moving in slow motion and thinking even slower, while customers were piling up, demanding and rude and implacable. And endless. It was very much like a modern suburban Inferno, some kind of subtle torture chamber disguised as a normal workplace. If only I could get it together.... if only the customers would give me a minute to clear my head, or if I could get somebody to help me out.....

Welcome to the realm of Dionysus.

Nightmare country, where flesh is tormented by nameless fevers and confusion blurs every thought. Frustration rules here. There's always work to be done, demands and pressures to the breaking point, and obstacles everywhere. Why is the floor so wet today, and these shoes so slick? Why do I feel so weak... if I could only sit down in peace and quiet for a few minutes. But when breaktime comes, the lobby fills with noisy people, and someone sets a crying baby in a high chair right next to you. And the sun is glaring in your eyes....

The bathroom..... closed cell of security. Peace at last.... but then somebody's rattling the door trying to get in, and they don't just try it once, they yank hard on it several times, and pound on the door like they're trying to break it down. Then they stand just outside the door, talking to each other in loud harsh tones, waiting for you to hurry up and get out.

I think Bruce Bickford knows this place well. I got Monster Road the other day - this documentary will go down in history second only to Crumb as a portrait of a tormented artisitc genius. I'm fascinated by him.... his life, his personality and his work. Bickford's father was a brilliant aerospace engineer for Boeing and apparently a cold and cruel man touched by a bit of madness, and his two older brothers were bullies. From his descriptions, his childhood was an endless torment.

And now he does brilliant animation of constantly morphing clay figures writhing in a world gone mad.... violence and cruelty everywhere, slicing swords and piercing blades cutting through flesh like butter and entrails spilling out to writhe on the ground and transform anew. Everything is in constant flux in Bickford's hellish imagination. The very ground itself heaves and pulsates and transforms into horrible monstrous forms. He once said that underneath every disco is a secret torture chamber. This sounds strange if you're not familiar with Bruce and his philosphy. I heard it on his long out of print video The Amazing Mister Bickford, consisting of clips done around the time he was Frank Zappa's in-house animator in the 70's, and at the time I didn't get it. But now, having got to know Bruce a lot better thanks to the people at Bright Eye Pictures who interviewed him and put together the box of concentrated sweetness that is Monster Road, it makes a lot more sense to me now. Now I understand that, like Svankmajer, he's a visionary who's been driven over the edge by visions too powerful to bear. Thanks to whatever biochemical oddity sustains the mind that is Bruce Bickford, and the peculiar life that forged him into the tormented artist he is, he's blessed and cursed to see too clearly into that Dionysian realm, where a thousand gentle tortures await and cruelty is concealed behind every kindness. It's a realm we all visit on those bad days.... revealed through a clarifying lens. It's the ordinary workaday world stripped of its illusions to reveal the torture chambers we all trudge through. And even though his vision is populated by bizarre constantly morphing creatures, it all looks too familiar, because we all visit that hellish realm every night in our dreams.

1 comment:

bRYEnd_of_the_schtick said...

(^ ok. time to hook this one up to uplandos. would you mind too much?

(^ you pegged Mr.B. pretty darn close to the mark. and this was long before I got dragged out to discuss real issues.