Friday, July 08, 2005

Documentaries and musings on the imagination

I'm a documentary fiend. I absolutely can't get enough of documentaries, particularly those that air on the IFC and Sundance channels. I recently watched a documentary about the mikveh (ritual bath for women), about a couch that belonged to a rebbe (yes, seems that there's a theme here) and right now I'm watching a documentary about the claymation animator Bruce Bickford called Monster Road.

I'd never heard of Bruce Bickford before, but apparently he worked a fair amount with Frank Zappa, including doing the animation for Zappa's movie, Baby Snakes. Bickford's animations are amazing - Daliesque, surreal, twisted - and some how very organic in the constantly morphing and mutating characters that he creates. The stories are brutal, violent, sexual - but yet seem to have a message - in a way, reminiscent of Roald Dahl.

In the documentary, Bickford talks about how as a child he had so many violent ideas and no one really knew where they came from - he attributed it to his brothers and their tormenting. I'd disagree. A lot of what he said - the imaginary world he inhabited in his head as a kid and still continues to inhabit today as an animator - reminded me of myself as a child. He talks about the fascination with evil that we have - but I don't think it's everyone.

I think some of us are just born with twisted imaginations. I think some of us act upon those imaginations in a way that is hurtful to others. Others maximize their imaginations and create works of great genius - whether it was Dali's painting, Dahl's stories, or Grunewald's depiction of Christ on the cross. I know that I've always had a dark imagination that sometimes disturbed and frightened my mother who couldn't for the life of her comprehend where it came from. I was born with it. As far back as I can remember, I'd make up strange stories in my head, stories that involved all sorts of nasty things. I read a lot - and I'm sure that played a large part in my imaginations, but not all of it could be attributed to books.

The important thing is to learn to channel the dark creativity into a positive direction - a fascination with evil can help a person learn about goodness of humanity, because often the flipside of the coin is more apparent than the middle of the road. I've learned to see good and beauty in a lot of places that most people couldn't. At the same time, the fascination remains - but again, I've learned to channel it somewhat. What I'm left with is a desire to visit the Earth's most dangerous places and to see the sparks of hope and the goodness of people trying to survive in these places. And of course, I still think up horribly twisted things in my head - thank goodness no one can read my mind.


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