PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Prometheus' Garden

Grounded in themes of violence and destruction and matched by those of transformation and regeneration.


Prometheus' Garden

Director: Bruce Bickford
Cast: John Hanford, Gary Minkler, Randy Minkler, Gerard Jones, Emily Bishton, Bill Jedrzejewski
Distributor: Microcinema
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2008-09-30

Writing about Bruce Bickford's stop-motion animated short, Prometheus' Garden, is a challenging task. It's a work of such singular visual expression that words are largely inadequate to explain what a viewer should expect to see. There are terms which can evoke the film’s look and feel – surreal, hallucinatory, dream-like, nightmarish – and they would be accurate enough, but without capturing any of the movie’s specificity. It is far easier, and probably more meaningful, to attempt to describe the potential audience for the film than the film itself.

To begin, potential viewers should be open-minded about the uses of animation. Prometheus' Garden does not have a linear narrative, but it is grounded in themes of violence and destruction, matched by those of transformation and regeneration. For example, in one sequence, a group of men with rifles mow down a line of unarmed forest people, and as the dead bodies and their viscera disappear into the ground, plants sporting strange pods capable of sparking transmogrification emerge from the earth.

In another, men who turn into beasts have their appetites sated by a pizza made from touching others with a paintbrush. The film is full of such graphic violence, followed by some kind of life-affirming change. It is weird and complicated, and well beyond the scope of the animated “family films” that fill the multiplexes on a regular basis.

Bickford's 28-minute short similarly violates the aesthetic norms set by the hyperreal computer animation typified by Pixar's films. Whereas the artists at Pixar produce animated figures and landscapes that aspire to making viewers forget, or disbelieve, that they are watching constructed images, Bickford's figures and landscapes look exactly like what they are: clay, batting, tin foil. Both forms have their virtues, but it is Prometheus' Garden that runs against the current grain in American animation.

Interestingly, both types of animation are at least partly formal exercises, with one trying to see how far digital media can be pushed in the direction of, and even past, the perceptions of everyday visual realities, and the other more motivated by what different transformations of clay might look like, regardless of how much they defy mundane experience, or perhaps the point is to step outside of that world in the first place.

Prometheus' Garden will intrigue anyone looking for animated work that creates an alternate reality, a way of seeing the world that is visually and substantively different from the one most people inhabit during their waking hours. The “real” one sees in the film is related to ideas and feelings, not how closely people, places, and things hew to their “actual” appearances.

Viewers should expect to be almost constantly aware that human hands have made what they are watching, and one-person's set of hands in particular. While this produces a certain distance with the audience, it does not necessarily result in detachment. For me, the intellectual and emotional experience of watching this film is an odd mix of immersion and withdrawal.

The original music for Prometheus' Garden is heavily electronic and discordant, underlining the dual sense of being drawn in and held at a distance by the film. The Bright Eye Pictures DVD includes an alternate soundtrack that is more analog, in sound at least, and more evocative of discovery and adventure than of violence and fearfulness.

The DVD also includes an impressionistic documentary about the making of Prometheus' Garden, and a trailer for Brett Ingram's documentary about Bickford, Monster Road (2005).

Also on the disc is a commentary from Bickford. As with the short doc on the DVD and the longer documentary that viewers will have to acquire separately, the track shows the animator to be a soft-spoken and independent-minded creator. His comments on Prometheus' Garden are an interesting aggregation of play-by-play, interpretation, and technical information.

Normally, play-by-play type tracks are ones I would just assume avoid, but in this case there is interesting information about the artist's understandings of his figures and themes (it isn't, for example, self-evident that certain figures are “mercenaries” and others are “Vikings”, but to Bickford they are). At the same time, it's refreshing to hear a filmmaker simply say that there are things on screen that are essentially inexplicable or simply weird. Bickford's clear sense of identification with his characters and figures is another intriguing quality of his commentary.

The DVD does a fine service in its presentation and extension of the film, but Prometheus' Garden is hardly for everyone. If it is for you, you might wish that Bright Eye Pictures simply packaged Monster Road with Bickford's original work.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.