The Collection of short films are:
1979, 21 minutes, color, 16mm NEW PRINT Music by Stefan Cichonski A dreamer is seduced by the mystery of the city at night. He leaves his room and goes into the street, where a tram-car carries him away. “As with much of their later work, it’s impossi- ble to provide a coherent synopsis of the earliest surviving film by the Quay Brothers, as Nocturna Artificialia defies attempts at verbal encapsulation at every turn. The Quays them- selves acknowledged this when they said “as for what is called the scenario, at most we have only a limited musical sense of its trajectory, and we tend to be permanently open to vast uncertainties, mistakes, disorientations, as though lying in wait to trap the slightest fugitive ‘encounter’.”... Shot on 16mm and funded by the British Film Institute's Production Board, Nocturna Artificialia is a remarkably confident piece of work, the Quays surmounting obvi- ous technical and budgetary limitations to create a private universe entirely out of their own recurring obsessions. Their later films may be more assured, but their roots are clearly visible here.” –Michael Brooke
THE CABINET OF JAN SVANKMAJER
1984, 14 minutes, color, 16mm NEW PRINT Music by Zdenek Liska The film is structured as a series of little lessons in perception, taught by a puppet simu- lacrum of Svankmajer, whose head is an opened book, to a doll whose head the master emp- ties of dross and refills with a similar open book. Each of the nine segments or chapters “refers variously to the importance of objects in Svankmajer’s work, their transformation and bizarre combination through specifically cinematic techniques, the extraordinary power of the camera to ‘make strange’, the influence of Surrealism on Svankmajer’s work, and the sub- versive and radical role of humor. Taken out of the context of the original Visions television documentary on Svankmajer, for which they served as illustration/commentary, these vignettes might at first sight seem a trifle bewildering. They ideally need to be viewed more than once before they begin to work effectively as quirky introductions to the Svankmajer universe. Then, however, they emerge as surprisingly charming and delightful excursions into this astonishing (and often deeply disturbing) directors work.” –Julian Petley
THIS UNNAMEABLE LITTLE BROOM or THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH
1985, 11 minutes, color, 16mm NEW PRINT Music by R. Walter
This was originally conceived as a pilot for a series, which never materialized due to lack of funding. Alternative title: Little Songs of the Chief Officer of Hunar Louse (Being a Largely Disguised Reduction of the Epic of Gilgamesh), Tableau II, “in which Gilgamesh sends a prostitute to seduce the wild man of the forest, Enkidu. The Gilgamesh figure is a sort of grotesque fascist hydrocephalic child despot on a tricycle, ruthless patrolling his sandbox kingdom. Enkidu, made from a bird skull adorned with an exotic headdress of feathers and shells, brings to mind Max Ernst’s renowned collage series Une Semaine de Bonté. The wicked child sets a devilish trap for the creature – a gobbet of raw flesh to lure him, and then a mechanical trapdoor in the shape of a vulva...it is strong stuff, a waking nightmare of paranoia and sexual violence. The camerawork is frenetic, yet the effect is precisely that conver- gence of the dreamlike and the mythic, the bizarre and the inevitable that all their work aspires to.” –J.D. McClatchy
STREET OF CROCODILES
1986, 21 minutes, color and b&w, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by Leszek Jankowski
Adapted from a short story by Polish writer Bruno Schulz, the Quays’ first film in 35mm, and their first masterpiece, delves deep into a nightmarish netherworld. A museum keeper spits into the eye- piece of an ancient peep-show and sets the musty machine going. Inside the puppets partake in a series of bizarre rituals among the dust and the grime.
“On display in a deserted provincial museum is an old viewing Kinetoscope machine with a map indicating the precise district of the Street of Crocodiles. Lodged deep within this wooden oesopha- gus lie the internal configurations and mechanisms of the Street of Crocodiles like some quasi- anatomical exhibit. The anonymous offering of human saliva by an attendant caretaker activates and releases the Schulzian theatre from stasis into permanent flux. Myth stalks the streets of this parasiti- cal zone where the mythological ascension of the everyday is charted by a marginal interloper who threads himself through this one night of the Great Season. No centre can be reached and the futile pursuit concludes in the deepest rear rooms of a slightly dubious tailor’s shop.” –The Quay Brothers
REHEARSALS FOR EXTINCT ANATOMIES
1987, 14 minutes, b&w, 35mm Music by Leszek Jankowski In the fragile immobility of a room a couple wait, as twilight advances, alternately oblivious to and made anxious by presentiments of some brutal destruction being remorselessly rehearsed outside their door. Loosely inspired by an etching by Fragonard.
THE COMB (FROM THE MUSEUMS OF SLEEP)
1990, 18 minutes, color and b&w, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by Leszek Jankowski The Comb opens in the shadowy bedroom of a sleeping beauty and seems to enter her mind and bur- row into her dreams. Based on a fragment of text by the Austrian writer Robert Walser, The Comb is an exploration of the subconscious visualized as a labyrinthine playhouse haunted by a doll-like explorer. A mesmerizing and resonant blend of live action and animation, The Comb is set to a sen- suous score of violins, guitars and attic room cries and whispers, and bathed in a gorgeous golden glow.
DE ARTIFICIALI PERSPECTIVA or ANAMORPHOSIS 1991, 15 minutes, color, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by Leszek Jankowski The Quays’ interest in esoteric illusions finds its perfect realization in this fascinating animated lec-
ture on the art of anamorphosis. This artistic technique, often used in the 16th- and 17th centuries, utilizes a method of visual distortion with which paintings, when viewed from different angles, mis- chievously revealed hidden symbols.
The Stille Nacht series
STILLE NACHT I – DRAMOLET
1988, 1 minute, b&w, 35mm Music: La Voz de Drohobycz performed by the Blata Gimnazjum Children’s Ochestra A dazzling fugue of iron filings that was made as an Art Break for MTV.
STILLE NACHT II – ARE WE STILL MARRIED?
1992, 3 1/2 minutes, b&w, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by His Name is Alive
A three-minute animated choreography with an ethereal pop soundtrack by the remarkable band called “His Name Is Alive”. With a typically eccentric cast of a ragged doll, a white rabbit and a manic ping-pong ball, the Quays construct a hypnotic, beguiling, and vaguely menacing bal- let—something like a music video made by Max Ernst. In beautifully textured black & white, Are We Still Married? is a small work, but it is as accomplished and unforgettable as their very best.
STILLE NACHT III TALES FROM VIENNA WOODS
1993, 3 1/2 minutes, b&w, 35mm
The third in the Stille Nacht cycle, Tales From Vienna Woods was also made with the intention of exploring imagery that they planned to devel- op further in their first feature Institute Benjamenta, which was then in limbo awaiting funds. In fact, so close were the short and the feature in terms of overall tone (despite the one being animated and the other live- action) that the former was subsequently recycled as the latter’s theatrical trailer, in a slightly but not significantly modified form. –excerpted from screenonline.org.uk
STILLE NACHT IV
CAN’T GO WRONG WITHOUT YOU
1994, 3 1/2 minutes, b&w, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by His Name is Alive
Following their collaboration the previous year with Are We Still Married?, the Quays reunited with His Name Is Alive to create the video for their 1993 single “Can’t Go Wrong Without You.” Very consciously a sequel to the earlier video, this recapitulates many of its central Lewis Carrollian motifs: the girl with constantly expanding and contracting height (an effect enhanced here by standing her on scales, her weight fluctuating in time with her changing size), the paddle decorated with the image of a heart and a pair of eyes, the rabit, and recurring impres- sions of keys, locks and dark, mysterious secrets. –excerpted from screenonline.org.uk
2000, 20 minutes, b&w and color, 35mm NEW PRINT Music by Karlheinz Stockhausen The first new film by the Quay Brothers in the five years since Institute Benjamenta, In Absentia is a collaboration with the celebrated avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who composed and conducted original music for the film.
Shot in black and white and color and projected in CinemaScope, In Absentia combines live action and animation with dazzling use of light to convey the mindscape of a woman alone in a room repeatedly writing a letter with broken off pieces of pencil lead. The film is dedicated to “E.H. who lived and wrote to her husband from an asylum.”
In Absentia, which premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, was produced by Keith Griffiths at Koninck for the BBC and Pipeline Films’ series of short music films “Sound on Film International.” (The series included films by Hal Hartley on Louis Andriessen, Nicolas Roeg on Adrian Utley of Portishead, and Werner Herzog on John Taverner).
“The night’s one unqualified success was In Absentia, from the Brothers Quay and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Ostensibly, the visuals were typical Quay: a mix of animation, live action and shadow- show sketching out a vestigial narrative about a woman obsessively writing letters in an asylum. But the violence of the music—with harsh, intense swathes of synthesiser and screeching organ—brought out extreme new tonalities in the Quays’ imagery, especially in the swells and blasts of white light, in retina-scorching digital projection. This dazzling piece of work, I suspect, was the only one of these collaborations that will have a life of its own outside the programme.” –Jonathan Romney, The Guardian
THE PHANTOM MUSEUM
2003, 12 minutes, b&w and color, Betacam Music by Gary Tarn
Random forays into one of the world’s most extraordinary museum collections: Sir Henry Wellcome’s unique trove of medical curiosities. With their customary dexterity and affinity for the arcane, the Quay Brothers imaginatively document this unique assemblage and bring it hauntingly to life.