Monster Road (Dir. Brett Ingram, 80 minutes, 2004)
Monster Road is a documentary feature exploring the wildly fantastic worlds of legendary animator Bruce Bickford. Tracing the origins of Bickford’s iconoclastic worldview, the film journeys back to Bickford's childhood in a competitive household during the paranoia of the Cold War, and examines his relationship with his father, George, who is facing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Monster Road premiered at the 2004 Slamdance Film Festival where it won “Best Documentary,” eventually screening at over 100 festivals, museums, and cinemas around the world, winning sixteen awards before premiering on Sundance Channel in 2005.
Bruce Bickford’s collaborations with rock musician Frank Zappa (Baby Snakes, Dub Room Special, The Amazing Mr. Bickford) in the 1970s made him an international cult figure. Three decades later, the aging animator works alone in a basement studio near Seattle, producing films for no apparent audience. Enchanted forests, animated torture chambers, hamburgers that morph into mythical monsters, and epic battles between giants, fairies, and anachronistic historical figures populate just a small corner of Bickford’s animated universe.
Bruce is the sole caretaker of his father George, a retired aerospace engineer of the Cold War era who faces the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. George’s talents for maximizing the space inside missiles are mirrored by his son’s animations, which often contain dozens of matchstick-sized figures fighting battles on a set the size of a grapefruit. George’s wondrous musings on the mysteries of the universe reveal a deep admiration for the implicit architect of such splendor while atheism prevents him from admitting the possibility of a God. Painfully piercing the fog of his memories, George considers the suffering of a life spent disengaged from his family and centered on the imperfections in those around him.
While the Bickfords lived a normal suburban life by all outward appearances, the brutality of Bruce’s childhood drawings and subsequent animation hints at a darker underbelly. Questions are raised for which there are no easy answers. Monster Road untangles myriad personal, artistic, and philosophical strands from the Bickford’s lives to illuminate an intricate web of influences that fuel Bruce’s cinematic visions.