Now that Halloween is finally here, I wanted to post on a talented duo of animators with a dark and disturbing sensibility befitting the season. Many have heard of the Brother's Quay, or at least seen their unsettling and experimental animations, however, it's their blend of innovation, surrealism, and substance that has earned them a place in the annals of film history.
I don't quite remember the first time I was exposed to a Quay film (not to be confused with Adam Jones' copycat-style Tool music videos); it was in high school at some point during my "dark" period when I was into goth/punk rock and Giger art. I remember being blown away by their originality and wondering at what it could possibly mean.
Identical twins, Stephen and Timothy Quay, were born in Pennsylvania, 1947, and would jointly follow the same path their whole lives. They studied illustration in Philadelphia before going on to the Royal College of Art in London where they started to make animated shorts in the 1970s. They have lived in London ever since, making their films under Koninck Studios.
They are greatly influenced by Eastern European animators, most notably Jan Svankmajer, for whom they made two homage documentaries, The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, and Punch and Judy. You'll often see Svankmajer's characteristic raw meat tongues in their films.
Over their 30 year career the brothers have made roughly 22 films, 4 of which are documentaries, another 5 are music videos (including a chicken and fruit sequence for Peter Gabriel's video, Sledge Hammer, directed by Nick Park), a few commissioned idents, and some live action features, but all featuring their highly stylized animation. They've also designed stage sets for several operas and plays.
Those favoring a plot driven narrative will need to look elsewhere than a musically and visually provocative Quay film. When constructing a new film the brothers with often begin with a premise or a puppet, but once they begin constructing the sets and decor, the script often goes "out the window" as they say, and everything begins anew, evolving very organically.
Just as with Simonova's sand animations, music is crucial to the Quay's films; they refer to it as "the blood" of the film, which creates a dialogue with it's own language. Just as a choreographer must internalize the music to invent new movements, so must the Quay brothers listen to it until it's in their "veins". I love how they talk. You should really watch an interview with them, they are the flesh and bone embodiments of their films.
That's what I've chosen to do with a few of my favorite Quay animations I will here dissect. Please enjoy the clips; you will undoubtedly take away something very different than I do, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section if you like.
1 minute 46 seconds
In turn, his ideas become images of wings that set him free. He finally returns the quill to the plumes in his hat, perhaps representing the cycle of ideas from the brain to the paper and back to the brain. In the end, another idea is twitching to come forth.
3 minutes and 19 seconds
What happens in the shadow, in the grey regions, also interests us – all that is elusive and fugitive, all that can be said in those beautiful half tones, or in whispers, in deep shade.– The Brothers Quay