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The Hallucinogenic Animations Bruce Bickford did for Frank Zappa

Submerge yourself in the wild and fascinating clay world of the cult animator Bruce Bickford in the '70s.
02/04/2015 Toni L. Querol
Still of Frank Zappa’s live television special A Token of His Extreme (1974), with Bruce Bickford’s animation.
 
You can bet all your money on it that right now he’s locked away in the old family house in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, that he inherited from his father, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of little men and monsters made of clay. Sitting on a trampoline, wearing thick magnified glasses and drawing vampires. He has lived 67 years, the last four of which he has invested in a colossal graphic novel of some 500 (and counting) pages titled Vampire Picnic. A mutual friend has told him he may be able to seduce Quentin Tarantino to turn it into a film. One can only dream. Most likely too good to be true. Bruce Bickford is one of the most original, lysergic and tireless animators in all of history. A unique specimen.
 
This hermit-prone soul started to become a cult artist the precise moment he moved to Los Angeles in 1973 –after loaning four years to service in the US Marines– and became friends with Frank Zappa. He would work for him making claymation until 1980. The mustache-clad musical genius of American counterculture in the '70s was the only one who understood and stood by him out of all the people he showed his little movies to which displayed pitched battles, landscapes that devour people (and viceversa), monsters sprouting from the most inconspicuous of places, eyeballs that explode, exotic plants that mutate into aliens, scenes of autocannibalism, mutant sexuality and preciously detailed violence with knives, swords, vikings, Spanish conquistadors, gladiators, Vietnam war mercenaries… “A lot of these places were impressed with my stuff, but they didn’t know how to use it. I even showed it to Disney, and they were aghast at how violent my stuff was. People think my stuff is too gnarly sometimes.”
 
In 1979, Zappa premiered footage of a concert called Baby Snakes which included the majority of the animation that Bickford had created during his most prolific phase. When in 1980 their artistic alliance came to an end, each went their separate ways. But, by contract, Zappa kept all the animations Bruce had created, even the films the latter had initially used as demos to ask for work. Later on, Zappa edited, arranged and premiered these animations in compilations like The Dub Room Special (1982) or The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987). Meanwhile, Bickford abandoned the Californian megalopolis and began the journey back in his van to live among little clay figures and nothing but little clay figures. Since then he has worked –on the outskirts of everything and everyone– from his garage / home studio, where he has brought to light masterpieces like Prometheus’ Garden (1988) or various replicas of scenes from Twin Peaks, among a never-ending series of unfinished projects.
 
Since it is practically impossible to give a synopsis or even a satisfactory description of one of Bickford's films to those unfamiliar, the best will be to let it seep in directly through the eyes (and ears).
 
Fragments from Baby Snakes, 1979
 

 
Animation for the live video A Token of His Extreme, 1974
Madness reigns after minute 2:40.
 
 
Videoclip of “City of Tiny Lites”, 1979
 

Fragment from The Amazing Mr. Bickford, 1987
 
 
Good summary of his career from the program ‘Art Zone Shuffle’ from Seattle’s Channel 21 (2013)
 
 
Trailer for the documentary Monster Road (Brett Ingram, 2004)