Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Brothers Quay (1947 - )

Famous for their dark and surreal stop-motion animations, the Brothers Quay are identical twins from Pensylvania who studied illustration before moving on to film-making.  Their style is influenced by Eastern European animators, in particular the Czech surrealist and animator Jan Svankmajer (indeed, one of their films is a direct homage to him - The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer), but is also distinctively theirs.  Filmed on miniature sets, their films are none the less full of detail, with great attention payed to colour and texture. (Zeitgeist Films, 2011).

The most famous of their films is The Street of Crocodiles, which revolves around a mysterious miniature world (the eponymous street) housed in an antique kinetoscope in an old museum somewhere in Eastern Europe.  After a live-action opening, which shows the activation of the world by an offering of saliva from the museum caretaker, the film switches to the dusty, ramshakle world inside the machine.  This world is populated by a variety of strange, psuedomechanical beings (many taking the form of porcelain-faced dolls) their that go about their "life" oblivious to their surroundings.  Within this ghetto, a lanky, almost spider-like, "man" wanders, exploring his environment; the camera that follows his actions moving almost like another character itself (leading some to describe the camera as "the third puppet" (Rose, 2010)).
Fig. 1 The Street of Crocodiles [Film Still]
A recurring feature of the Brothers Quay's work is the extremely limited dialogue; what little information they specifically convey to the audience they impart via written captions within the film world.  The films do not have explicit storylines, rather they use mise-en-scene and cryptic clues to raise questions in the mind of the audience, which they do little to answer.  As a result, their films are full of ambiguous yet beautiful imagery (for example, in The Street of Crocodiles, there is a scene in which a "flock" of screws work their way free of the floorboards, dance around the main character, and then sink back into the floor).

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.  Atelier Konick (1987) The Street of Crocodiles [Film Still] [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)


Fitzpatrick, T (1997) The Brothers Quay [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)

Mazierska, E (2011) Quay, Brothers (1947 - ) In: BFI Screenonline [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)

Rose, J (2010) Stephen and Timothy Quay In: Senses of Cinema [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)

Zeitgeist Films Staff (2011) The Short Films of the Quay Brothers In: Zeitgeist Films [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)

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