Tales of the Brothers Quay | Chicago Reader

Tales of the Brothers Quay

The films of the London-based American twins provide an interesting test case for someone like me who resists both puppet films and the gallows humor of eastern European animation. In a selection of films made between 1986 and 1993, ranging from their magnum opus Street of Crocodiles to their Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, one certainly encounters a good deal of invention and unkempt activity built around their distinctive brand of nostalgic old-country surrealism. As critic Raymond Durgnat points out, the theoretical implications of this work are fascinating, because “puppetry knows so many (and such heterogeneous) syntheses of realistic and nonrealistic elements as to blur all possible elements between them.” But most of the esoteric quasi-narrative structures employed by the brothers Quay and their collaborator Keith Griffiths make their movies closer to work than to play: arcane intertitles that usually seem to have a vague or tenuous relation to the action are flashed on the screen so quickly that one often feels at a loss trying to follow the obscure meaning structures, and the thematic bases of these shorts—which also include The Comb (1985) and Anamorphosis, among other items—often seem to get in the way of their free-floating pleasures. At their best, as in Street of Crocodiles, these films give off some of the eerie mood and texture of a David Lynch film, and one clearly can't accuse the Quay brothers of predictability. But gaining full membership in their special world seems to be an acquired taste.


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