Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Road Less Taken

The other day, while visiting a friend, he loaned me a DVD called Monster Road and suggested I watch it. It's a documentary about local artist, Bruce Bickford, who was famous in the 60's for his claymation work he did with Frank Zappa. To be honest, I took it from him and promised to watch it, but wasn't particularly interested. But, last night, with nothing else to watch, my wife and I decided to throw it on.

It turns out that it's actually quite good. In fact, its one of those films that sticks in your head long after the film is over.

Wisely, the filmmakers gloss over the Zappa connection and instead focuses more on Bickford as an artist, his childhood and (most importantly) his relationship with his aging father who is suffering from alzheimers. This interaction with his father -who is an interesting and tragic character himself- ended up being the emotional core of the film and makes it resonate in a way that most documentaries about artists fail to. It certainly impressed me more than its closest cinematic relation: Crumb.

Both men come off as these fragile creatures with almost otherworldly views of life, and who both in very key ways fail to connect with those around them. This disconnect, reflected against the amazing and obsessively created art work of the younger Bickford helps give a peek at a family that ultimately has spun off the rails and really has no way of reassembling itself.

But, that's not to say that the film is bleak. In fact, its far from it. More wonderous and bitter-sweet than depressing and defeatist, the art and the two individuals musings keep things unique and watchable. Bruce maintains that Bill Gates should use his money to create 50 claymation studios, while his father calls Elvis a thug while trying to remember if they ever shook hands. In addition, it becomes a bit of a portrait of Seattle, and the unique mildewed personalities that the area produces.

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