Brothers Quay: We started off as illustrators, drawers, and it was because we became frustrated by the stillness of that image, the lack of sound, of depth, of music, we figured there had to be another way to go. We managed in school to do some 2D, cut-out animation shorts, but we were frustrated by that as well--we wanted the third dimension.
RD: Had you begun to experiment with animation before you arrived in London?
BQ: No, we came to animation at about the age of thirty-two. At least puppet animation, the kind of work we've become known for.
RD: What draws you to the literary sources which serve as inspiration for your films? They all seem to be drawn from the eastern European/Germanic vein, such as Ödon von Horvärth, from whom the title TALES FROM THE VIENNA WOODS is borrowed, or Bruno Schultz, whose writings were your starting point for STREET OF CROCODILES, and of course Robert Walser, whose novel JAKOB VON GUNTEN inspired your lates film, INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA.
BQ: For one the whole universe of the puppet is an eastern European artform, one which really doesn't exist in America, and once we became aware of the region in which European puppetry was developed and refined, we were attracted to the literature which surrounded it. This process led us of course to central European literature and music, although that's not to say it's our only obsession. But the real turning point for us was coming across the diaries of Franz Kafka, because what he left out of the stories, we found in his diary: these half-fragments, things that were unbelievably evocative, so that Kafka really led us in to central Europe. And of course Kafka adored Walser's writing.
RD: Your films are also reminiscent of early German silent cinema. Is it safe to assume that German Expressionist and Weimar film has had a big influence on your style?
BQ: I know why people are prone to say that, because our animation draws heavily on a very sophisticated visual language--a certain quality of lighting and decor, of stylized movement--which has a lot to do with Expressionism. But at the same time one could talk Keaton, or early Swedish or Danish cinema, all of which are crucial for us. The essential influence is that of a visual aesthetic which doesn't rely upon dialogue.
RD: This aesthetic seems to me to be a sort of "stylized Germania", for lack of a better term, which reminded me immediately of Guy madden's CAREFUL.
BQ: Well Walser's book, which was our foundation, is actually not an expressionist work, it has nothing to do with it, and the relation to CAREFUL is purely fortuitous. We had never seen the film when we got started shooting, and he had never read the book. Somehow we do share the same iconography, however. We know Guy and have written each other various letters, but he's got a sense of humor compared to us.
RD: You mentioned music as another thing you culled from central Europe. It plays a big role in all of your animation, and BENJAMENTA is no exception. Do you begin working with a score already at hand?
BQ: Absolutely. Only once in our life have we had the music done in post-production, for a commercial. We rely on music to propose certain things we would have never foreseen. For us music is the bloodstream and like any choreographer we compose our visual narrative through music--it almost co-writes the scenario. We'd like to achieve a musicalization of space, and would prefer our work to follow musical law rather than a dramaturgical one.
RD: You've described your move from stop-motion animation to live action filmmaking as analogous to a composer moving from chamber pieces to a symphony.
BQ: Well it was a giant step for us, but we felt we were quite ready. I mean Christ, we're fourty-eight years old. Bertolucci shot his first feature when he was twenty-one or so, which makes us appear slightly retarded. In a sense we've got to make up for lost time.
RD: What is it about the term "surreal" that you object to, when used in reference to your films?
BQ: Our fear is that the term is mis-used. Of course we are familiar with surrealism, we know its history and its place, but the term can too often be used in a cavalier way, without acknowledgement of its real meaning. Like, "Oh, that's cool, that's surreal." When it's used cautiously and intelligently it can be a very descriptive term, but we're weary of it's over-use. At this rate every housewife is a surrealist.
RD: You've said that you are "Europeans by choice", although you were born in Philadelphia. Do you think it would be possible for you to make your kind of films in America?
BQ: It would be totally impossible for us to have done what we've done in America. American companies might buy our films, but we work on commission, and the European commissioning bodies are much more open and receptive of our ideas. Our puppetry may well be relegated to the perimeter, but at least it's allowed to exist. Channel Four goes so far as to treat animation as an artform and to set aside a whole budget for it's production. Sadly I don't think that could ever happen here.
RD: I was surprised to find that you were participating in the DIGITALE festival last year in Cologne, which focuses on digital media and celebrates computer-aided filmmaking. Your work is very much of the old-school, even if you did use a bit of digital tomfoolery in BENJAMENTA.
BQ: Well, the man who runs DIGITALE is a friend of ours, and I think the reason we were included in the program at the last minute was because he's interested in the alchemical quality of our films. We were sort of a counterweight to the rest of the festival, because our films contain a form of combustion that lies right beyond the realm of digital effects. It was as if to say, "You can work wonders with a computer, but can you do this?"
RD: I'm sure people are always asking you about your decision to work together. It's uncommon for twins to stick by each others side, much less for them to work together in the same field.
BQ: For us it's invisible, we don't even notice it. You're only reminded that you're a twin when you walk down the street together and people stare at you. Actually, we passed two old women today, identical twins, probably in their seventies, and immediately we thought "Jesus, will we look that bad when we get old?", "Why don't they just part?", and we had to admit that they were slightly freaks. People of course expect us, as well, to eventually part and to become normal people, to have an individual life, but we find that being twins insulates us quite nicely from the demands of reality.
Ever since I first laid eyes on a Quay animation my imagination has been obsessed with the possibilities of film.Thanks for the insightful interview with those who other wise would be anonymous phantoms. I'm leaving for London on March 8th and am going to be working on an animated piece with a friend of mine. Which schools do you recommend I investigate in Europe? Thank you- Chris
Thanks for the inspiration.
These guys deserve a very rich benefactor. I hope they never get one... Incredible stuff.
The Quay Brother's blend of beautiful animation and mystery has always mystified and terrified me. I was always envious of their creativity. I wish I lived in their world. They are true inspiration.
If any one has their Email address please send it to me. I think the films and animations are spectacular.
Last night I fell through Cocteau's mirror and guess what I saw? Two cheers for the brothers. My guess is they'll make a stab at Stanislaw Witkiewitcz's drugged visions next. Boys, do you dare?
Seeing Street of Crocodiles and some of the Quay's other short films some years ago was one of those experiences that changed me forever, and I continue to wait impatiently for each new film. They say here that they are tired of the term "surreal," which is indeed overused, but it has always seemed to me that they, more than anyone else working today, realize Breton's definitions of surrealism, and particularly his notion of "convulsive beauty." If their work is not "explosante-fixe, erotique-voilee, and magique-circonstancielle," what is?
Thanks - indeed Can you please recommend some animation-schools in London (near by)for me as well? Eileen
Long live the Quay, who graciously feed us nightmares with bent spoons. Danka!
The Street of Crocodiles is, for me, the most exciting and complete evocation of Kafka's world, and remains so. That they mention Kafka and Keaton, whom I believe to be another pair of twins, separated at birth, is particularly gratifying, because it strings my heroes so nicely together. But I have yet to find some way to describe, in some compact phrase, what these artists all have in common. Maybe someone can suggest something?
I was entertained by the interview in its eclectic look at the Quays life. I However am interested in further information on the Quays links to surrealist film. The box that the main character carries in Street of Crocodiles is very similar to the box carried by the bicycle rider in Un Chien Andalou. Was that a concious decision. How do the Quays feel about their work being analysed as surrealist?
Verily, Marcel Duchamp would agree that all housewives are surrealists. Surely, they are the foremost dwellers among the artform of the readymade. I slept through most of Benjamenta, which is the greatest compliment I could pay any cinematic effort, as those films which best represent the world of dreams irresistably lead me into my own to become an unconscious collaborateur via mental improvisational directing, utilising rapid-eye cinematography to paint my own homage onto my own private screen. This experience is both instantaneous and unique, as it exists in an isolated moment in time, free from the burden and degradation of physical form, and affirms the undeniable value of the theatre of the synapse, which is the glorious stage of the archetypal Narcissus; scorned by the artificial framework of societies and their controlling devices, yet known to all truly artistic souls as the genesis of their personal creative gestation. I welcome the comments of others concerning this proclamation.
I would love to know how one can go about obtainig some work by the Brothers Quay. I'm a very new fan and am interested in learning more about all things Quaydian.
I have done some animation films already and am now doing my MA degree at the Royal College of Art. I am writing my dissertation about the Quays and their strangely magical universe. Finding articles about them is not very easy so, if you have some interesting information about them, PLEASE get in touch with me...MANY THANKS!
Once it started, frail and stone-hearted, I withered to the floor. It's my best friend: It died in the end. Consumed in a horrible fire.
i would LOVE to see the quay brothers get together with someone like h r giger or maybe those people that animated nightmare before christmas! imagine a full length film of quay animation visuals! maybe david lynch could direct it! ...
Are the Quay brothers still making films or did they vanish after 1986?
Before all, please forget my english. I just saw some images from Institute Benjamenta from a spanish tv program about cinema and it seemed to me really fantastique. That treatment of beauty was so bizarre and intimist -and all this in just five minutes! (the duration of that tv note). I want to know where can I get the brothers´ work.
...It seems that, when i wrote the message above, asking for information about the Quays, I forgot to write my Email... firstname.lastname@example.org So, and again, if someone wants to help ,please send me whatever you know about them. MANY THANKS
The band Tool was inspired by Brothers Quey. They use animation like that of the Brother Quey. They are really great.
Looking for people into the absurd/existentialism and writing or art for a collaborative project.
to chad - the band Tool used an animator by the name of Fred Stuhr for their filmclips. He's the one who should get the credit. But I believe the guitarist does the CD cover artwork.
Verily, B.Q. Kick Ass. Light, Dark and Headless Dolls, Giger's Bio-mechanical and German Engineering might be an interesting mix, however, Tim Burton and the Sib's might be even more interesting. Broken glass and flesh. Now thats interesting!
MORE MORE MORE MORE
just saw some quaymations in our local theatre,all 35mm prints!,the comb,stille nacht 1-4.... if you live in Europe you can now check out a box they made for the Festival in Rotterdam(a early century-type box where u can c a moving image) could anybody get me the other(not vol1,2)animations they did on video(bootleg,copy,..whatever!!)
At the risk of sounding like a snob, I wish more people would go to Europe and live there for awhile to get out of their "American viewpoint." I'm sure they would realize the blasphemy in the suggestion of merging Giger and/or Burton with the Quays. It's that sort of approach to art in america that has prevented the Quays from working here to begin with. That's why they are ex-patriots. "VIVA AMERICA" As for Frank Stuhr, bravo, he has successfully ripped off the Quays, and may be making a living at it with his Tool videos. Nice work... but I'm not so sure he deserves "the credit"for blatently lifting the Quays "style".