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Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers
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Two of the worlds most original filmmakers, identical twins Stephen and Timothy Quay have been creating their unique blend of puppetry and stop-motion animation for nearly 30 years and have spawned an enormous cult following. The Quays display a passion for detail, a breathtaking command of color and texture, and an uncanny use of focus and camera movement that make their films unique and instantly recognizable. Best known for their classic 1986 film STREET OF CROCODILES -- which filmmaker Terry Gilliam recently selected as one of the ten best animated films of all time -- they are masters of miniaturization and on their tiny sets have created an unforgettable world, suggestive of a landscape of long-repressed childhood dreams. This new two-disc set contains thirteen of their classic short filmssome never-before-available on DVDin brand-new, restored and remastered editions (personally supervised by the Quays), plus a collection of "footnotes" including new audio commentaries, extensive interviews, alternative versions, unrealized pilot projects and more. PHANTOM MUSEUMS: THE SHORT FILMS OF THE QUAY BROTHERS also features a 24-page, gorgeously illustrated booklet, including an extensive Quay Dictionary and a new essay by film critic Michael Atkinson.
For those who already know the short films of the Brothers Quay, Phantom Museums is a welcome, thorough investigation of a lifelong dedication to stop-motion animation and dream sequence narratives. For those just discovering this identical twin team of Stephen and Timothy Quay, Phantom Museums is the place to start. This two-disc set includes roughly twenty of their projects, chronologically spanning thirty years. Inspired by the old-fashioned look of early animated features such as The Adventures of Prince Achmed, as well as Jan Svankmajer and Jiri Barta's films, The Brothers Quay built their reputation on combining the quaintness and delicacy of early animation with present day macabre. As miniaturists, they painstakingly hand assembled decadent sets, such as an ancient library, a shrunken head vault at the natural history museum, and spiral staircases. Homemade dolls with missing eyes, pins, needles, and screws, protractors, and other tiny metallic things, make characters and their environs grotesquely techno, framed by carnivalesque camerawork in which the viewer experiences scenes from every possible angle. Highly anatomical, they sometimes use steaks and livers to represent doll innards. Watching these films now, one appreciates their Goth quality, especially because of the romantic, classical musical accompaniment. Their influence on the music video industry is also apparent. Each film has a unique story and production design, so that although the overall Quay aesthetic is clear, variation avoids redundancy. Phantom Museums also includes director commentary, alternate versions, and a wonderful filmed interview with the pair, in which they discuss their father forcing them to choose between either becoming gym teachers or artists. Lucky for us. --Trinie DaltonSee all Editorial Reviews
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Influenced by a wide-range of artists across multiple mediums—from the animation of Jan Svankmajer, to the music of Czeck composers (who also score much of their work), to traditional ballet, to the writings of Kafka and Bruno Schulz—the brothers filter these influences through the prism of their singular imagination to beautiful and astounding results. The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer and Street of Crocodiles serving as perhaps the best example of this marriage between like-minded thinkers and the Quays own distinctive creative output.
Though Street of Crocodiles remains their most famous and perhaps best work, the disc also includes a treasure trove of lesser-known or hard to find pieces, particularly my own favorite: In Absentia. This twenty-minute-film depicts the crumbling psychology of a woman trapped in a mental institution writing letters to her husband. Though this is the surface level description of what is happening, the Quay’s depiction of this tragic psychological condition creates a deeply unsettling yet hypnotizing glimpse into the mindscape of this woman as has never been so uniquely produced on film. The Brothers incorporate innovative uses of light, animation, live-action, and sound to offer a harrowing impression into the mind of the mentally ill.
The Stille Nacht collection—four short films of the brothers’ collaborations with companies, musicians, and bands—offer further demonstration in the Quay’s pushing their techniques to make memorable animation with what is given to them in the form of broadcast interstitials or music videos.
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, This Unnameable Little Broom (or The Epic of Gilgamesh), and The Comb are three longer, similarly amazing pieces that demonstrate the Brothers’ incorporation of music and extraordinary animation techniques to create a nonverbal film experience that captivates the viewer into the drama through music and distinct visuals that calls to mind something closer to opera or ballet. Moreover, their most famous and ambitious piece—an adaptation of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles—serves as the best representation of this aesthetic to stunning effect. The only real parallel that comes to mind in regards to this unique marriage of sound and visual to create a nonverbal narrative experience outside traditional narrative cinema can be found in what Kubrick achieved in his sci-fi masterpiece 2001.
Nonetheless, The Brothers Quay occupy a singular space in the pantheon of animation and cinema that this DVD collection exhibits to very demonstrable results. These pieces are imbued with themes, ideas, and aesthetics that leave a haunting and unforgettable experience upon the viewer and often demand repeated viewings to fully embrace the spectacular array of visual design and profound thematic ideals at play. Between their recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and this DVD Collection, it would appear the Quay Brothers are finally garnering their much-deserved recognition as two of the most remarkable luminaries in the field of animation and filmmaking at large.
Full list of those pieces included in the DVD
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
*This Unnameable Little Broom (Epic of Gilgamesh) (1985)
*Street of Crocodiles (1986), plus original treatment
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987)
*Stille Nacht I (Dramolet) (1988)
The Comb (1990)
*Stille Nacht II (Are We Still Married?) (1992)
*Stille Nacht III (Tales From Vienna Woods) (1993)
Stille Nacht IV (Can’t Go Wrong Without You) (1994)
*In Absentia (2000)
The Phantom Museum (2003)
Those with asterisks include an accompanying commentary by the Quay Brothers.
As far as content,you can expect abstract stop-motion animation of the highest caliber;some films may not be easily decipherable on the first few viewings but part of the fun of these films is the repeat viewing value!
fans of surrealism,animation,david lynch's animation,tim burton's animation,or even older surrealism like jean cocteau,luis bunel,or maya deren:check this out because it's totally engulfing and brings you within a world that is very interesting!it's the real deal.
Hi-rez is really great, as well as freeze frame to look closely at the intense level of detail on the models.
I would buy a Blu-Ray HD version (4K?) if available!
I recommend the Phantom Museums to anyone who is interested in the Quay Brothers and may just be starting to delve and rummage within their realm of dreams, realities, nightmares, and fantasies. People who already love the Quays truly cherish this veritable compendium of shorts from the masters of animation & visual artistry.
Love & Light