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List of Contents Introduction … Main Body … List of Illustrations … Bibliography … 3 4 8 9
Illustration 1: The Brothers Quay Introduction: “We really believe that with animation one can create an alternate universe … not a dream or a nightmare but an autonomous and self-sufficient world, with its particular laws and lucidity” (Quay, T. cited in: Krasner, 2004:31) This essay will discuss the artistic anomaly that is the Brothers Quay. Identical twins whose creations can be considered simultaneously solipsistic and relatable. Their intricate and 'self-sufficient' worlds are both removed and accessible; existing in an aporetic state between alienation and connection. To support this essay the sources referenced are Jon S. Krasner's Motion Graphic Design & Fine Art Animation: Principles and Practice (2004), Barry Purves' Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance (2007), Graeme Harper and Rob Stone's The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film (2007) and Damon Smith's 2007 interview with the Brothers, Reflecting the Theoretical Beyond for the film journal Bright Lights (est. 1974). The Quay Brothers' history and context is first established, their influences discussed. Then their methods and philosophy are explored, defined and questioned before applying the knowledge to an exemplar of their work, the 1986 short film, Street of Crocodiles. By doing so, the essay attempts to critically examine the the worlds that exist inside the Quay brothers' creation and their relevance to the real world; a conclusion will then be drawn how the brothers are to be received as artistic creatives and philosophical explorers.
Illustration 2: The Mascot Main Body: Born in 1947, Norristown, Pennsylvania; the Quay brothers, Stephen and Timothy, studied illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art, a talent that remains in their calligraphic titles and credits, and in the illustrative embellishments within their sets. Then, in 1969 they moved to England to study at the Royal College of Art in London. In the 1970s they met up with previous Royal College student Keith Griffiths and formed Koninck Studios, with Griffiths as the pair's producer. Their influences steer acutely clear of American animation, instead drawing upon Eastern European and Russian art and film. Their work contains some of the essence found in the eerie marionette-like movements of German animator Lotte Reiniger's silhouettes, and also the mad cavorting and unnerving energy contained in the creations of Russian film maker Ladislaw Starewicz, his 1933 short, The Mascot, in particular; his work has gone onto influence others such as Tim Burton and Henry Selick. It could also be suggested that their contemporary, the Czech animator Jiři Barta, must hold some fascination for them, and visa versa. Barta's wonderfully realised worlds, such as the hand carved town of Hamelin in his 1986 film, Krysař (The Pied Piper / The Rat-catcher), contain their own logic and poetics, attributes found in much of the Brothers' Quay work. But perhaps the most obvious influence to be found in the Brothers' work, one that they share with Barta, is the man to whom they've dedicated on of their shorts, as Harper and Stone point out in their work, The Unsilvered Screen: “[The Brothers Quay] owe much to him. The Quay Brothers publicly acknowledged their mentor and source of inspiration by naming their 1984 short The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer.” (Harper and Stone 2007:61) The Czech film-maker, animator and artist, Jan Švankmejer, stands as an everlasting influence to all surrealist, abstract and experimental creatives. In particular, his film Dimensions of Dialogue (1982) contains an air of surreal violence and visceral disgust, which the Brothers Quay have inherited.
Illustration 3: Dimensions of Dialogue The creation of worlds and atmospheres is something that the Brothers delight in. When describing their creative process to writer Jon S. Krasner they say, “We like going for long walks, metaphorically, into whatever country we go to – we could disappear in any country.” (The Brothers Quay, cited in: Krasner, 2004:31) It is this desire to go beyond the horizon, beyond what a flat illustration could show that leads to the Brothers often exploring the darker side of animation. The seminal animator Barry Purves1 writes on the Quays in his book Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance (2007): “Shadows play an important part, and touch on fears that we never quite know what lurks in the dark when our back is turned. The films are shot making great use of focus, picking out the texture in a pile of dust and making it look beautiful and significant, or the focus being sharp on a screw twisting up out of a floorboard, giving an inanimate object such presence, even a character.” (Purves, 2007:149)” The Quay brother's aesthetic could be described as appertaining to the Renaissance style of 'Chiaroscuro'; where volume, form and depth are defined through the interplay of light and shadow in the extreme. It it here perhaps that the knotty question as to the aporetic nature of the Brothers Quay's work begins to unravel. In entering worlds that are defined by their visual nature the Brothers begin to adopt and explore the nature of dreams and nightmares. Krasner writes specifically on the topic, linking the Brothers to the notion of the unconscious, coined by the prominent Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. “The miniature sets of the Quays create a world of repressed childhood dreams. Absurd and incomprehensible images exist in a chaotic, multilayered work where human characters live at the mercy of insidious machines. Unexpected, irrational events distort space and time beyond recognition.” (Krasner, 2004:30) This tapping into the unconscious is the beginnings of what makes the work of the Brothers, which is essentially solipsistic in its nature, appealing to and understood by its audience. Their work transcends visual cliché and the formalities of film to connect with us on the Quays define as a 'primal' level. During their commentary on their work (The Short Films 1979-2003, 2006), the Brothers state their intent as synonymous with the syntax of dance, specifically ballet, where meaning is derived not
1 “Barry's six films have won over sixty major international awards, including Grand Prix, Best Director, Best Film, and OSCAR and BAFTA nominations.” (http://www.barrypurves.com/Barry/index.html)
through speech or dialogue, but through the medium of movement, and its correlation with and relation to sound and music. Dance, they state, communicates on level that is universal and often darkly subliminal. Within their animation, the Brothers frequently explore more sinister topics, the visual nature of their creations feeling phobic or scatological in nature, worlds which would having anyone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder squirming in their seat. In an interview with Damon Smith for the Bright Lights Film Journal, Stephen Quay talks about their creations undertones, which often centre around existentialism and the erotic, “[It] ...is in the indirectness, rather than stating it out in the open. There's this dark undercurrent tugging all the time which comes from our own sensibility, where you push it under rather than float it on top of the surface.” (Stephen Quay, cited in: Smith, 2007) This concept of 'pushing under' the work's subtler themes could be the reason the Brothers' work often requires a second viewing. To the first glance, their work may seem entirely self-justifying, unrelatable artistic expression, appreciable but not immediately accessible. But there is something that draws the viewer back for a second time, where they transcend what is set to 'float on top of surface' and see rather, what has been submersed beneath.
Illustration 4: Street of Crocadiles To apply this school of thought to a specific example, let us focus upon the 1986 short Street of Crocodiles, based upon the collection of short stories written by Bruno Schulz in 1934. The stories deal with an embellished reality, an exploration of childhood memories without concerns for realism. The world the Brothers constructed is almost entirely out of 'bric-a-brac', objects found or bought at flea markets. In fact, the pre-owned nature of the Quay's materials is essential to the atmosphere of their work. Stephen Quay comments, “they [the objects] possess memory. History is something they've brushed up against, and they hold all of history in their bodies. And for us it's a way of wanting to release that side of their history, if possible.” (Quay S. cited in: Smith, 2007) Their fascination with flea markets grew out of childhood trips, and they describe themselves as “always drawn towards texture, towards the organic, nothing shiny and computer-like.” (Quay, T. cited in: Smith, 2007) The result is a world that feels antiquated, the protagonist an explorer in a world of memories, which is essentially what dreams are. On first viewing, this is all Street of Crocodiles appears to be, the documentation of a lone traveller's surrealist ramble. Upon a second viewing, one begins to pick apart 6
the darker heart of the piece. In particular the air of dark eroticism that the 'zone' is steeped in, the exploration of meat as something sensuous and the allusion to phallic, sexual symbols is prevalent. The protagonist is drawn into this dark world of sexuality through curiosity; thus becoming perhaps a metaphor for the innocent blunderings of a growing child, the first piquing of sexual curiosity, and where it can lead. Suddenly the film becomes a lot more applicable, relevant to the viewers life, rather than a distanced piece of art. Conclusion: In conclusion then, finding the answer to the Quays' wonderfully held balanced between solipsistic artistic freedom and self-justification, in relation to being approachable and accessible works of art, lies in their understanding of universal unconscious fears. Their constructed stories communicate with the viewer on the same level as ballet, dismissing speech to relate on a much more primal level, exploring the combination of movement and sound, light and shadow, the interplay of innocent curiosity and the discovery of dark secrets. Their wide variety of influences are not just artistic, the Brothers are great readers of philosophy and literature, and constantly exploring the world of music, and it all feeds back into their creations, making them widely accessible. Their methods of extracting history from objects gives their pieces a sense of authenticity, a vintage air that makes them feel like tales from another time. All of these go towards creating works of art that require an attentive audience to move beyond casual observation and begin to enter into and de-construct the world the Brothers Quay so delicately put together.
List of Illustrations Illustration 1. The Brothers Quay [online] http://www.fusedfilm.com/wpcontent/uploads/2010/02/Brothers-Quay.jpg (Accessed on 08/04/2011) Illustration 2. Starewicz, Ladislaw (1933) The Mascot [Film Still] From: The Mascot [Online] http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2553/4000356123_82704354c6.jpg (Accessed on 08/04/2011) Illustration 3. Švankmejer, Jan (1982) Dimensions of Dialogue [Film Still] From: Dimension of Dialogue [Online] http://3.bp.blogspot.com/A8EodCWdsDA/TZM8qPeddpI/AAAAAAAAabU/CUljiSsH_nE/s1600/DIMENSIONS+OF+DIALO GUE.jpg (Accessed on 08/04/2011) Illustration 4. The Brothers Quay (1986) Street of Crocodiles [Film Still] From: Street of Crocodiles [Online] http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lielkw08HU1qz66gdo1_500.jpg (Accessed on 08/04/2011)
Bibliography Krasner, Jon S. (2004) Motion Graphic Design & Fine Art Animation: Principles and Practice Gulf Professional Publishing Harper, G. and Stone, R. (2007) The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film Wallflower Press Purves, Barry (2007) Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance Focal Press Smith, Damon (2007) Reflecting the Theoretical Beyond In: Bright Lights Film Journal 55 [Online] http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/55/quaysiv.php (Accessed on 06/04/11) The Tate Glossary [Online] http://www.tate.org.uk/collections/glossary/definition.jsp?entryId=66 (Accessed on 07/04/011) Brothers Quay, The Short Films 1979 – 2003 (2006) Direction by The Brothers Quay [DVD] The British Film Institute
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