Friday, April 04, 2008

Dreaming in Plasticene - 2nd impressions on Prometheus' Garden

I promised more of my impressions on Prometheus' Garden, and here they are. I've now watched it probably half a dozen times, (oh, and now the original sound track is my favorite) and I'm finding it really grows on you. On me anyway. When you first sit down to watch some Bickford, there are some thorny thickets that you might not make it through. 1st impressions ;

What the heck is this??!!??!

Did a kid do this?

Oh my god.... what's happening- everything is morphing and changing all the time.... it's like some crazy nightmare!

There's no story!

I don't understand

I don't understand and I'M FRIGHTENED!!!!

What's going to happen next?

Oh my..... did that REALLY just happen?? Did he..... jesus, yes he DID!!!

This scares me.... I'm afraid to watch - judging from what I've already seen, this guy is crazy, and Im afraid he'll show me something that'll scare me even more any minute now!!!

It's at about this point most people just shut it off. They try to forget it, like a nightmare that really shook them. Oh, they might not admit it shook them, most will just laugh derisively and act superior and smug.... the way people always do when they're frightened and they don't want to admit it (to themselves especially).

The way to make it through is to think of it as a dream. This is no movie, with a plot, characters and a happy ending. That's not how Bickford rolls. He's a visionary.... and a visionary doesn't control the visions -- they control HIM! It seems to me animation is for him a constant act of ritual warding-off.... a pagan ceremony to keep the demons at bay.... to entrap them in the oily colorful clay for another day so they can't well up from inside and destroy him.

This is unadulterated adolescent fantasy stuff.... there are naked girls, brawny dudes with massive swords in steel codpieces and helmets, buckets of blood and guts..... in fact it often reminds me of some of the alternative comix - not the superhero stuff, but the wild gory ones drawn in a primitive childlike style usually in black and white. But like only the best of those comix, it succeeds because all that stuff is only on the surface..... Bickford's vision begins there and reaches beyond, into the primal matter of the human soul.

There's something unusual about the way he approaches the sex and violence that proliferate in his world. Not that it's not exaggerated.... it's completely exaggerated..... but it seems to serve a deeper purpose. The girls are naked, well except the ones in the fetishistic Valkyrie armor that wraps itself snugly around their heaving bosoms and contours itself to every nook and cranny of the aureolae - or the ones who wear only living vines rooted in packets of earth attached to their belts. Oh, yes, and they do grab big handfuls of vaseline from their vaseline chalices and copiously smear it all over their gleaming naked bodies. But..... they're not attractive! Not at all! And I don't think it's because he lacks the skill to make them attractive..... when he wants to he can make the most amazing puppets with incredible detail. No, I really think these are some kind of archetypal demonic dominatrixes - not the typical pimplefaced fanboy's sex fantasies. I could be wrong.... possibly Bruce tried to make them totally hot but couldn't do it..... which would only serve to strengthen my conviction that his images come from the world of dream. There are strange creatures lurking in dream-land - ugly hags and harpies screaming out obscenities while performing horrible sexual deeds. And stuff like that.

And the violence..... also not handled in any typical way. He dreams of tortures you and I couldn't imagine! But somehow there's something beautiful about it - in the way its presented. Highly stylized.... when bodies burst open it resembles flowers blooming in timelapse. It's amazing the amount of detail he puts INSIDE the bodies (the ones that are ripe for the bursting anyway)..... under the skin there's a thin red layer of clay, and then a cavity inside the torso into which he's carefully placed lovingly-sculpted entrails. You never see ribs or bones of any kind. Somehow that would clash with the soft squishy nature of his plasticene dream. Torsos burst open readily like overripe fruit.... like pumpkins the day after Halloween, and they sort of turn themselves inside-out in wonderful slow motion as the stylized entrails begin to emerge.... opening like the blossoms of spring. And the characters don't seem to die in any normal way. Instead they fall to the ground.... melt into the ground, as if being re-assimilated by the earth from which they sprang (the firmament of their creator's fertile mind no doubt). And usually from the same spot there blossoms something new.... some other life form, acting out the endless cycles of decay and regeneration.

It's difficult to write about Bickford's work. Well, and try to actually do it justice anyway. It's not at all like writing about any other kind of movies. But when you start to think of it as a dream, then the words begin to flow. I think that's the key to understanding the work. You have to get past those thorny thickets I mentioned above - that takes a few viewings. It takes until you become familiar with the entire film and realize that it won't hurt you. Until you've absorbed enough of what's happening all over the place to begin to make some kind of sense of it all. Only then can you get past those initial prejudices and start to appreciate the sheer beauty of all the color and texture - the wondrous movement and the strange but awe-inspiring flow of ideas. Bruce himself said in Monster Road that movies are about movement. Especially action flicks (which his films are). And he likes to climb. There are clips of him shinnying up a tall tree (and this guy is 58 years old fer cryin' out loud!).... clambering onto the roof of his house, and footage from when he was a young man leaping and running atop some kind of skeletal steel apparatus. There's also the bit where he puts some kind of kerosine-soaked ball on the end of a rope or chain and lights it on fire, then spins it around and around in crazy patterns, tracing glowing spirals through the darkness. Yeah, he's definitely into unusual motion! Once keyed into that, I studied the motion in his films, and it's fascinating to watch his characters walk! They never lift a foot from the clay bed of the ground - instead they have this sort of sliding, lurching step that covers a lot of distance without ever necessitating any great difficulty on his part as an animator. And I believe that's important to him - it allows him to keep working at a rapid pace.

Someone once described his films to me as being like staring into a lava lamp... things just constantly changing shape with no rhyme or reason. That's not exactly true. Well, it would be true if you could jack a lava lamp directly into your cerebral cortex and let it act out the inner fantasies and dreams as they well up from the depths of the subconscious! Technology hasn't yet allowed us to do that. But hey, who needs technology anyway?

We've got Bruce Bickford!


Ok, I went back and took another look.... actually some of the girls are pretty hot. Especially considering the scale Bruce tends to work at, and the difficulty of sculpting attractive women (rugged hero types are a lot easier). But fear not - there are plenty of ugly ones running around!


Ryan McCulloch said...

I met Bruce about a year and a half ago and saw some clips of this. He is an odd duck indeed, but the work he has done boggles my mind. Now I'm looking forward to watching the whole thing, and Monster Road. Thanks dude!

Sven Bonnichsen said...

Just ordered my copy.

Apparently I'm order #101. You were order #3 I think? So, close to a 100 orders in -- what, a week? Two weeks? That's a decent spike of purchases, I'd say.

Darkstrider said...

Hey Ryan, nice to hear from you on my blog! YOUR work boggles MY mind!!!

Sven, I think Brett just realized the advantages of sending out a preview copy for a Darkmatters review... yeah, yeah.... THAT'S the ticket!!! And the sales spike.... all because of my writeups! Yeah.....


Andrea said...

hey! I really love your work!

Can you tell me which material do you use for the head of your puppets?



Darkstrider said...

Hi Andrea!

Generally I make heads from super sculpey and bake it up hard. The latest puppets (heads were made by Scott Radke) have epoxy putty heads, which are really heavy! Oh, and sometimes I sculpt them from super sculpey and then make a silicone mold and cast a duplicate in lightweight resin, which is easy to carve and sand and paint.

andrea said...

thanks! I'm working on a puppet and your tips are really usefull. I will you show my work when I will finish.



andrea said...

it's still me...sorry, the last question:

when you got your latex arms, how do you color them? which kind of color get that effect?



Darkstrider said...

Ah, I use PAX paint.... it's just acrylic paint mixed into a flexible adhesive - generally something called Prosaide - but I use a prosaide substitute from Monstermakers called No-Tac Acrylic Adhesive.

If you can't get ahold of anything like that, then you can just mix acrylic paint into latex.... try not to add too much paint, just keep adding it little by little till you achieve a good tint. Latex makes a pretty thick gloppy paint though compared to prosaide or an adhesive.

Edwound Wisent said...

(^ well THIS is help filled.
i may see if Mr.B' is ready to look over Gus's shoulder and read this whole section of your PromG. review, and respond to it.

(^ might take a little coaxing but I think it might help instigate another line animation frenzie, so ..why not.