Bruce Bickford is an American artist that primarily works in stop motion claymaytion. I first learned of Bruce Bickford about 12 years ago when I came across Frank Zappa’s ‘The Amazing Mr.Bickford’(1987) in which Bickford’s animations are set to a soundtrack of Zappa’s orchestral music. Between 1974 and 1980 Bruce collaborated with Zappa and his work was featured in videos such as Zappa’s ‘Baby Snakes’ and ‘Dub Room Special’. The Bickford animations that I first saw in ‘The Amazing Mr.Bickford’ blew me away. For fun I tried making my own stop motion compositions and I never forgot about Mr. Bickford. I recently tried to find a DVD copy of ‘The Amazing Mr. Bickford’ and had no luck- but during that hunt I did find out that in 2004 a film maker, Brett Ingram, created a biographical documentary. called ‘Monster Road’ about Bickford’s life and work. Wanting to know more about Bickford I quickly ordered the film.
It turns out Bickford is more amazing then I could have hoped for him to be. I happen to have a soft spot in my heart for eccentric elderly guys (see my blog handsomegrandpas.blogspot.com) and the movie not only features 62 year old Bruce but also stars his elderly and equally ‘out-there’ 80 something year old father ‘Old George’.
Bickford describes his fascination with fearful things and his need to make the surreal, shocking and often disturbing imagery that he is recognized for as ‘looking at a savage beast in a cage that you are safe from’. You can look at it and think ‘at least it’s not me’. At one point in ‘Monster Road’ Bruce tells a very vivid dark childhood story about his father’s mental state while working as an engineer for the government of defense during the war. Bruce deals with this heaviness by chuckling and points out human being’s fragility and how easily one can ‘just flutter along on the edge of extinction’.
Whether it is climbing a tower, stabbing a monster, or going into an imagined torture chamber with-in a real life war bunker, the common thread throughout Bickford’s work is the underdog prevailing as the hero, the continuous plight to stare fear in the face and overcome obstacles. In Ingram’s biography Bickford and his father explain that in 1976 Bruce’s baby brother committed suicide at 25 years old. After, Bruce goes on to introduce the audience to one of his re-occurring clay hero’s ‘Speedy’ that is a “little guy that always wins and saves the day-he takes no nonsense if there are sadistic killers in the land they better bag ass before he gets them”. ‘Speedy’ he explains “Has the charisma of a 5 year old who had never had misfortune or at least he thought of misfortune as just part of life and never let it get to him.” In a way Bruce has created Speedy as an alter-ego of his little brother Stevie, and by creating Speedy, Bickford enables Stevie to continue to live his life and good continues to prevail over evil.
At 62 Bruce Bickford lives his life like a modern day Peter Pan. Although thick with the complexities of an adult life lived, Bickford also maintains a purity or an innocence that seems to exist through his ability to stay true to his imagination. Bickford somehow lives his life so that those things that others may regard as fantasy aren’t so easily separated from reality. In Bickford’s world these things are just as real as any other part of life. Bruce climbs giant trees on a daily basis, cares for his 85 year old father, swings fire for fun, drinks a special Chinese tea concoction that he has been drinking daily since the 70’s that is going to help him live to be at least 255, and continues to live through gut spilling monsters, mutant attaching pizzas, giant dwarfs and car crashes via his constant and daily clay creations for his films.
Bruce the outsider has always bravely gone to this place that must have been lonely for some time as it was solely from his head. He has created a magical universe where others want to go and others want to understand, and by doing this the underdog manages to change this lonesome little world into a never ending universe, and as terrifying as it can sometimes seem in real life, the little guy really does win.