Bruce Bickford’s Prometheus’ Garden Set for 2008 DVD Release

Some typically detailed clay animation models by Bruce Bickford.

My old pal Hell’s Donut House just directed me to this excellent news from Brett Ingram, recently posted at Idiot Bastard Son, a Frank Zappa fan site:

In the next few months, Bright Eye Pictures will release Bruce Bickford’s Prometheus’ Garden, the first film over which Bickford maintained 100% artistic control.

Prometheus’ Garden is a 28-minute stop-motion film utilizing clay puppets and sets, cutouts, replacement series, aluminum foil, “strato-cut” slices, molten wax, and other techniques. The film is (very) loosely based on the Greek myth of Prometheus — an immortal who (in some versions of the story) created the first mortals out of clay. Bickford’s incorporation of this myth into his animated film includes appearances by Vikings, cowboys, Vietnam War era mercenaries, imps, elves, fairies, and countless other historical and mythological creatures.

Prometheus’ Garden, like most of Bickford’s later films, is an unscripted stream of consciousness animated over the course of years. Bickford began work on Prometheus immediately after the release of Frank Zappa’s film Baby Snakes in 1980. Prometheus’ Garden was completed by Bickford in 1988.

I recently recorded Bickford’s (characteristically dry-witted) commentary tracks for the upcoming DVD and began production on “extra” elements — including the documentary featurette, Luck Of A Foghorn. This new half hour documentary will take viewers behind the scenes and into the mind of Bickford. I shot miles of film while making Monster Road (the documentary feature I made about Bickford) and most of this footage has never seen the light of day. Luck Of A Foghorn will unearth these images along with footage from the making of Prometheus. Laird Dixon (from Shark Quest) has created an original score for Luck Of A Foghorn and it is hauntingly beautiful. The title of the featurette originates from a surreal day dream Bickford had while hovering near death with pneumonia in hospital.

I hope to have the DVD ready for sale on the Bright Eye Pictures site (along with Monster Road) no later than February 1, 2008. [See update, below.] Bickford has several films that have hovered near completion for years. Hopefully, the release of Prometheus’ Garden will spark a chain reaction so that Bickford’s recent work can find the audience it deserves.

As readers of Mugu Brainpan may recall, I’m huge fan of Bickford’s truly amazing animation (to wit and thus). It is my considered opinion that he is one of the greatest animators ever, as well as among the greats of visionary film more generally.

The reclusive filmmaker, who lives in the Seattle area, garnered some well-deserved attention thanks to the excellent aforementioned documentary, Monster Road (2005), after many years of grossly undeserved obscurity (not helped, I’m sad to say, by copyright snarls involving the Zappa estate). Following that release, Bruce surfaced in 2006 with an all-too-small spate of rare screenings and public appearances in Baltimore and Seattle, including a May 2006 screening at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery that included a recently completed new work of line animation.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore included clay sculptures and projections by Bickford in Home & Beast, an exhibition that opened in October 2006 and ran for a year. His work was featured alongside paintings by William Kurelek in a gallery of the exhibit titled “Home Sweet Home,” described by the Museum as exploring “memories of home life and what, in fact, constitutes a home.”

Since precious few of Bickford’s astonishing film works are in circulation (and not even Canyon Cinema includes him in their legendary catalog of avant garde works), news of this DVD release is very good indeed. Keep an eye out, and kindly ask for it at your neighborhood video outlet.

Update: Brett Ingram recently announced on his blog that release of this DVD has been delayed (again), as he works to complete editing on Luck of a Foghorn: The Making of Prometheus’ Garden. Once completed, the whole shebang will still need to be mastered and duplicated, so it will be some weeks (at best) before the disc sees the light of day. Brett also announced he is launching a new web site, BrettIngram.org (still very much under construction, so don’t order yet), that will offer direct-sale copies of the Prometheus’ Garden DVD, as well as the collectors’ edition of Monster Road, his aforementioned (and excellent) documentary about Bruce Bickford. Watch this space for further info.

Bruce Bickford Films on Home Video

Baby Snakes (1979 – released on DVD in 2003) — A Frank Zappa concert film that includes several segments of Bickford’s animation. The most widely-seen examples of Bruce’s work.

The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987, VHS – out of print) — A superlative anthology inexcusably unavailable on DVD. In Seattle, Scarecrow Video has a copy for rent (with deposit). Used copies also occasionally surface on eBay.

The Dub Room Special (1982 – released on DVD in 2005) — A sadly ill-fated TV special by Frank Zappa that, along with some great concert footage, includes various snippets of animation by Bickford.

Monster Road (2005 – released on DVD in 2006) — An excellent and endearing documentary that takes us into Bickford’s very private world. The DVD includes a number of his short films as extras, including spectacular examples of his line animation.

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