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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

Monster Road: Collector’s Edition (review)

In the already cultish world of clay animation, Bruce Bickford still stands out as offbeat. His collaborations with Frank Zappa in the 1970s — as in the 1977 concert film Baby Snakes, among other projects — made him a revered figure in alternative culture, and today, he makes strange and disturbing little movies in his basement that hardly anyone ever sees. This portrait, a labor of love by documentarian Brett Ingram, takes us into Bickford’s insular world, where he lives seemingly cut off from everyone except his father, George — who is descending into the haze of Alzheimer’s and relies on Bickford for his care — and his own deep-seated neuroses. Through Bickford family movies, childhood drawings, interviews with the filmmaker and his father, and Bickford’s recent work, Ingram pointedly yet sensitively explores Bickford’s psychological monsters to underscore and illuminate the mind of an artist who produces intricately and meticulously animated battle scenes, unsettling metamorphoses of humans changing into creatures or being consumed by them, strange manipulations of scale that reduce men to midgets or render them as giants, and other disquieting imagery. Poignant but never pitying, this is an enthralling study of the driving force behind an artist’s work, as recognized by a slew of festival awards, including Best Documentary Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2004 and the Michael Moore Award for Best Documentary Film that same year at Ann Arbor. (The film aired on the Sundance Channel in 2005.) Featuring an eerie and evocative scored by instrumental indie-rock band Shark Quest, and movie is expanded here by 45 minutes of extras, including rare Bickford animation, deleted scenes, and more.target=”_new”>Monster Road, )

MPAA: not rated

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