MONSTER ROAD is a mesmerizing, astonishing view into the life of a brilliant but profoundly disturbed artist.
You aren’t likely to see it at a local movie theater, and it probably won’t show up on TV, either. But Brett Ingram’s look at legendary stop-motion animator Bruce Bickford is coming to Savannah.
It’s an offering of the 6th Annual Psychotronic Film Festival, which will feature 10 nights of rare, indie and cult films. Some are award-winners, including Monster Road, which will be presented Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.
Before Brett Ingram created the film, Bickford was best known for creating the clay-animated sequences in Frank Zappa’s 1979 music movie Baby Snakes. The audience for Zappa’s movie was limited, but those who saw it will never forget Bickford’s violent but astonishing images.
Ingram is a stop-motion animator himself. “I was initially inspired to make a documentary about Bruce after seeing his animation,” he says. “It was so startlingly original, so completely absurd, so darkly beautiful, that I wanted to know more about the person who created it.
“Once I met Bruce and spent some time with him, I was convinced this was a story that needed to be told,” Ingram says. “Or, better put, it was a story I really needed to tell.”
Stop-motion animation is a complicated process that requires great skill and immeasurable patience. “Stop-motion is cinema in its most primal form - the absolute creative control of everything in the frame and the motion between each and every succeeding frame,” Ingram says. “The sets and puppets are designed and built from scratch, a process that requires skill in painting, sculpting, molding, armature building, and so on.
“Then, you light the scene and move a given puppet, limb, or set piece in very small increments, taking a still image after each movement,” he says. “When the resulting film is projected at 24 frames per second, the illusion of movement is created and the inanimate world comes to life.”
Budget was always a problem for Ingram, but not the biggest problem. “The most pressing factor was the fact that George Bickford, Bruce’s father, who had a big role in the film, was deteriorating quickly from Alzheimer’s disease,” Ingram says. “I had to capture the film before George’s memory and faculties diminished completely.
Fortunately, I did. Sadly, George died in 2005.”
While Monster Road has won several awards at film festivals around the country, Ingram isn’t in this to win awards. “I never try to guess what the reaction will be to one of my films,” he says. “I just make them because I have to - like breathing - and hope for the best. Thankfully, the film took on a life of its own as soon as it premiered.”
Isle of The Damned also will be presented at the Psychotronic Film Festival. Made in 2008, it’s a spoof of early ‘80s Italian “cannibal horror” films, made to look like a “lost” movie that has been rediscovered and restored. It’s set for Jan. 30 at 8 p.m, and is described as a comedy as well as a horror film.
Director Mark Colegrove says it’s based on actual films such as Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox. “I can’t say that everyone responsible is necessarily a huge fan of the genre, but it has its place in film history as being one of the most notoriously shocking sub-genres of horror film,” Colegrove says.
“We thought it was high time that the genre received a Mel Brooks-esque skewering,” he says. “We ramped up some of the goofier elements, and kept all of the gore and sleaziness intact as well, so that no fan of the genre should be disappointed.”
Colegrove loves comedies. “Generally the dumber the better,” he says. “Comedy has always been my main squeeze, but I’ve always been a fan of bizarre cult films, genre works, foreign films.
“Mystery Science Theatre was probably a big sub-conscious influence on this film particularly,” Colegrove says. “In high school, around the time that me and my buddies were actively going on Indiana Jones-style quests to seek out obscure cult films, we were running around with our parents’ VHS cameras to make our own spoofs.
“For English class, we would turn in our versions of Othello and Streetcar Named Desire in lieu of writing a paper. Eventually I ended up in film school to learn how to do everything the right way.”
Most audiences “get” the idea behind Isle of the Damned. “There’s a lot of ‘in’ jokes for those who know the cannibal genre well, but I don’t think you need to have seen a single cannibal film to enjoy some of the humor,” Colegrove says. “At least, we tried to keep that in mind during production.”
Crowds tend to give a rowdy response at screenings - well, most of them. “There have been several instances of sensitive viewers becoming physically ill during screenings, and it is not recommended for those of weak constitution,” Colegrove says, tongue firmly in cheek.
The Psychotronic Film Society was started by Jim Reed, who remains its executive and artistic director (Reed also serves as music editor of this newspaper.) “Launching this annual two-week long festival was the logical extension of our regular, weekly screenings at The Bean,” he says.
“Our Wednesday night schedule isn’t convenient for some folks, so this allows them an opportunity to attend the ongoing series,” Reed says. “I try to program a diverse cross-section of features for the annual Film Fest, so that it functions as a microcosm of the broad scope of fun and provocative cinema that our audiences enjoy year-round.”
The foreign films offered sometimes draw exchange students from the countries where the films were made. “I’m very proud that my series is one of the few hip forms of evening entertainment in the whole town that’s open to all ages,” Reed says. “It’s taken several years, but we now have a decent number of high school kids show up. There’s no smoking or alcohol served, so it’s a safe and low-stress environment for adventurous, open-minded young people who aren’t interested in the same old mainstream junk that clogs up our multiplexes.”
Reed is about to incorporate the PFS and it will become a full, tax-exempt, non-profit organization. “We’ll be able to offer charter and yearly memberships, with discounted admission and all sorts of other benefits, as well as actively fundraise and apply for local, state and federal grants,” he says.
“We’ve also already begun to partner with other high-profile groups and events, such as the Savannah Jazz Fest and the Jewish Film Festival, to mix our artistic vision with theirs,” Reed says. cs
Full schedule of the 6th Annual Psychotronic Film Festival:Jan. 26, THE STRANGER- 1946 Film Noir directed by and starring Orson Welles as a Nazi mastermind in small-town USA.
Jan. 27, THE CYNIC, THE RAT & THE FIST - 1977 Italian crime drama about a detective who takes the law into his own hands.
Jan. 28, DOLEMITE 2: THE HUMAN TORNADO - 1976 film by the late Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who paved the way for Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy
Jan. 29, MONSTER ROAD - 2004 documentary about stop-motion animator Bruce Bickford.
Jan. 30, ISLE OF THE DAMNED - 2008 indie spoof (made in Baltimore) of early '80s Italian cannibal horror films.
Feb. 2, MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH - Little-known, violent teen drama from 1976.
Feb. 3, S.O.S. PACIFIC -1959 British thriller on the high seas, starring Sir Richard Attenborough.
Feb. 4, STRIP CLUB KING: THE STORY OF JOE REDNER - Ga. premiere of a new indie documentary about a Tamapa businessman known as "The Larry Flynt of The South."
Feb. 5, THE CREMATOR - Newly rediscovered, surreal Czech-made Third Reich allegory from 1969.
Feb. 6, SPECIAL MYSTERY SCREENING! - Award-winning, unreleased 2002 documentary on a legendary late '60s Detroit rock band.
All films begin at 8 p.m. at The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave. Seating begins at 7:30 p.m. for ALL-AGES. Tickets are $6 at the door.
For more information - and to watch trailers and clips of the films, visit myspace.com/psychotronicfilms, or call The Sentient Bean at 232-4447.