The Quay Brothers

The Quay Brothers: Into a Metaphysical Playroom

SUZANNE BUCHAN
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv79m
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  • Book Info
    The Quay Brothers
    Book Description:

    This work is the first thorough analysis of the creative oeuvre of the Quay Brothers. Known for their animation shorts that rely on puppetry, miniatures, and stop-motion techniques, their fiercely idiosyncratic films are fertile fields for Suzanne Buchan’s engaging descriptions and provocative insights into the Quays’ art—and into the art of independent puppet animation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7497-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xxvii)

    Years ago, while writing a master’s thesis on James Joyce’s cinematic language, I watched a screening of the Quay Brothers’Street of Crocodiles(1986). I was immediately enthralled by the beauty of the images, but I could not pinpoint what was so striking and emotionally moving about the film. I was smitten by its complexity and poetry, but when I tried to describe what I thought was actually happening in the film’s convoluted narrative, I was stumped in my attempts to communicateexactlywhat it was. I found cold comfort in a text from Michael Atkinson: “It wouldn’t matter if...

  5. 1. AUTHENTIC TRAPPERS IN METAPHYSICAL PLAYROOMS
    (pp. 1-37)

    To watch any film from the Quay Brothers is to enter a complicity of furtive glances, choreographed shadows, and a mélange of motifs and tropes. Their opus exhibits an instantly recognizable and often emulated style, a shifting composite of chiaroscuro and an assemblage of obscure objects and fragmented, skeletal narrative structures. Their works are closer to music than to dialogue, closer to poetry than to literature, closer to experimental interior monologue than to conventional fictional narrative. The first-time viewer of any of the Quay Brothers’ films is often baffled by what seems to be the filmmakers’ apparent unconcern for coherence...

  6. 2. PALIMPSESTS, FRAGMENTS, VITALIST AFFINITIES
    (pp. 39-73)

    Now that we are equipped with a sense of the Quays’ creative origins and their trajectory from the United States to London, from illustration to the moving image, this chapter will unfold some of the literary, thematic, and aesthetic origins that the later work commencing withStreet of Crocodilesengages with: literature being a main instigator of the “twist point” that incited a significant shift in their aesthetics. What is striking about the Quays’ films is the combination of references they choose, ranging from painting, early optical experiments, puppet theater, literature, surrealism, expressionism, and Baroque architecture to musical structures, Polish...

  7. 3. TRAVERSING THE ESOPHAGUS
    (pp. 75-99)

    Acloser look into recesses and corners of the Quay Brothers’ studio beyond the glass cases and bookshelves reveals how it is brimming with paraphernalia and tools. Compasses, screwdrivers, files, bits and pieces of old metals, puppet armature parts, filigree wires, and pulleys are meticulously arranged in cupboards, shelves, and drawers and attest to the artisanal skills their films require. Much has been written about the alchemy of their films; theprocessof how they achieve this alchemy is rooted in the origins of the word, in transformation but less so than in a search for gold or a philosopher’s stone...

  8. 4. PUPPETS AND METAPHYSICAL MACHINES
    (pp. 101-133)

    Puppets and automata have transfixed audiences for centuries and hold a prominent position in artistic and critical discourses around cultures, human behavior, and the imaginary world. They continue to have a huge range of use within contemporary arts, performance, and film. Until the cinema developed as a reproducible medium, it was mainly in puppet theaters, public exhibitions, and private salons that audiences experienced these empty vessels often modeled on human likeness. They were also prevalent in the post-Enlightenment period, coinciding with German Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) and the Romanticism that followed, a period during which a number of...

  9. 5. NEGOTIATING THE LABYRINTH
    (pp. 135-165)

    There is a range of influences throughout the history of art to which critics and curators refer to bring the Quay Brothers in stylistic proximity with other artists. But in cinema this remains a small group of experimental and auteur filmmakers. Cineastes whom the Quays mention as having had a particular influence on them are Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Robert Bresson, Theodor Dreyer, Georges Franju, Charles Bokanowski, Andrei Tarkovsky, Aleksandr Sokurov, and others. All of these filmmakers are noted for their unusual poetics of lighting, mise-en-scène, and camera. The influences of impressionist cinema and especially surrealism are evident in some of the...

  10. 6. THE SECRET SCENARIO OF SOUNDSCAPES
    (pp. 167-197)

    Music permeates the Quay Brothers’ studio. The rafters and corners are imbued with compositions from Eastern European composers, madrigals, violin sonatas, avant-garde instrumentals, more contemporary minimalist jazz, and shortwave recordings from distant lands. There is so much music, in fact, that the small lavatory functions as a “musithek,” the walls lined with hundreds of music tapes whose replaced covers are embellished with the Quays’ calligraphy and illustrations. Music is convoluted in discussions, gestures, and replies. On the topic of music in a 1996 interview, the Quays regarded themselves as “failed composers. What we try to do is create a visualization...

  11. 7. THE ANIMATED FRAME AND BEYOND
    (pp. 199-233)

    The critical success ofStreet of Crocodilesgave the Quays artistic freedom to explore a shift in subject matter, in part originating in literary and poetic sources that led to exploration of new aesthetic forms, but also because they were able to make extensive experiments in technique, both with cameras and on large stage sets. The Quays are best known for their puppet and feature-length films. Less known, but no less incisive in their creative development, is their intense engagement in stage design for opera, ballet, and theater. Since 1988, the Quays have created sets and projections for performing arts...

  12. 8. THESE THINGS NEVER HAPPEN BUT ARE ALWAYS
    (pp. 235-256)

    This chapter explores the Quay Brothers’ two completed feature films as both variations on and culminations of their other creative works. It also proffers a summary of their poetics in works completed when this book was finished. The chapter’s (and this book’s) conclusion is an open one; the Quays have projects currently in development and no doubt more will follow. In 1995, they completed their first full-length live-action film,Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life. TheStille Nachtshorts,The Comb, and the dance films had been a trying ground for the transition from animation to live-action...

  13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 257-268)

    The Quay Brothers’ live-action and puppet animation films are informed by a conceptual dialectics rooted in profound knowledge of the histories and aesthetics of painting, illustration, performance, literature, and architecture, including the –isms of modernist art practice, poetry, and cinema. The eclectic iconography of the Quays’ cinematic world—its meandering narrative structures and unique cosmogony—hinders an assured or exclusive classification to a genre or a movement. If anything, their works belong to a hybrid category of poetic-experimental film that operates at a liminal threshold between live action and animation. In a discussion of the spectator’s sensual and emotional response,...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 269-284)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 285-294)
  16. WORKS OF THE QUAY BROTHERS
    (pp. 295-298)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 299-309)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-311)
  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)