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Kino on Video presents

The Brothers Quay Collection (2000)

"They're all linked by the common thread of Black & White and the belief in obliquesalesmanship. ... Of course, none of this is all really apparent, but it gives us thesublime belief that no one is ever looking. And it's the premise we're mostcomfortable in starting from."- The Brothers Quay (commenting on their 'Stille Nacht' films)

Director: Stephen Quay and Timothy Quay

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (animated shorts, possibly disturbing)
Run Time: 02h:03m:00s
Release Date: 2000-08-01
Genre: special interest

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+AA B-

 

DVD Review

I first encountered the Brothers Quay, like many, through that pustule on the face ofmusic, MTV. In 1988, the Quays were commissioned to contribute to MTV's seriesof artist-oriented promos ("Art breaks"). Whilst flipping through channels, it washard not to stop on MTV every time they aired Dramolet, the spot that theQuays created. Despite being only 60 seconds long, the clip was a hypnotic,bizarre black-and-white creation using stop motion animation that defies easyexplanation. Since that time, I have grown to truly admire the brilliant, surrealistwork these two filmmakers have brought to the world. Despite MTV's attempts atshamelessly copying their work, be it in promos or videos, the Quays definitelyremain servants to their own natures, despite their foray into more commercial work.

The Brothers Quay (Timothy and Steven) are indentical twins living in England. Though born and raised American, their style and intellect seems almost certainlyrooted in European traditions. Their films often feature captions in Europeanlanguages, musical scoring by the classic avant-garde composers of Europe, andare sometimes inspired by European literature. Often classified as "animators", theBrothers Quay are much more. Their films are vast, surrealist epics that opendoors to incredible, yet untouchable, landscapes of nightmarish visions. Theirworlds use harsh film-stocks, warped lenses, and an impeccable grasp of theartistry behind puppetry and stop motion. The work rarely has any sort of clearnarrative or storyline, or in fact anything that distinguishes a typical film. It usesdolls, often deformed, and superbly realistic, almost antique, settings, much like atwisted doll house performance. The imagery will often amaze, if not disturb. I won'tpretend to understand what drives the Quays, nor will I pretend to grasp somesubliminal context to their work that no one else has. I will say that what I findfascinating is how accurate their stop-motion work is to re-creating the nightmarishquality of a chaotic night of uneasy sleep. I've never liked the attempts at explainingor rationalizing the work presented in Quay shorts, or any seriously surreal artform,so I'd advise that viewers of these films simply turn down the lights and immersethemselves.

This DVD presents 10 of the Brothers Quay's short films (technically 11 since theirvery first short is presented as an extra feature. The films included are:
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
14 minutes, Color.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (or This Unnameable Little Broom) (1985)
11 minutes, Color.
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
21 minutes, Color.
Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies (1987)
14 minutes, Black-and-white.
Dramolet - Stille Nacht I (1988)
1 minute, Black-and-white.
The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1991)
17 minutes, Color and Black-and-white.
Anamorphosis, or De Artificiali Perspectiva (1991)
15 minutes, Color.
Are We Still Married? - Stille Nacht II (1991)
3 minutes, Black-and-white, music by His Name is Alive.
Tales From the Vienna Woods - Stille Nacht III (1992)
3 minutes, Black-and-white.
Can't Go Wrong Without You - Stille Nacht IV (1993)
3 minutes, Black-and-white, music by His Name Is Alive.
Nocturna Artificialia (1979) [credited as a bonus feature]
21 minutes, Color.

The disc contains, essentially, all of the Brothers Quay independent work. Althoughthey have done more work (including the famous Peter Gabriel videoSledgehammer), the films here were done completely under their owncreative control, in their isolated studio called "Konnick." While most of the work iscompletely surrealistic, some of these films have distinct points.

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer is an obvious tribute to the awe-inspiringCzech stop-motion animator of the same name, whose work (films likeFaust and Alice) is the only thing capable of even comparing withthe Quay's. Cabinet has definite undertones of a young boy's mind beingemptied of typical, childhood things, and replaced with the education and desire tobecome a bizarre animator. Anamorphosis is an educational piece theQuays did for a longer film about art history. The piece is an extremely well madelook at the process of anamorphic distortion (a classical form of optical illusiondating back to the 1700's), but done in that distinct Quay style. Usually acclaimedas the "best" Quay short is Street of Crocodiles, one of their longest works. Two of the "Stille Nacht" shorts are music videos commissioned by the band HisName Is Alive, and are among their most potent modern work. Both videos featurethe similar themes of a stuffed rabbit and a fidgety, mysterious young girl. Thebonus short, Nocturna Artificialia is similar in some respects to Streetof Crocodiles with some of the same artistic themes. This short is, to the bestof my knowledge, the earliest Quay short still in existence (their film school workwas, sadly, lost some time ago).

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer


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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame 1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes yes
Anamorphicno no


Image Transfer Review: The shorts on the disc vary in their style of presentation and visual quality. Mostare full-screen, but some are 35mm, 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The quality of the image isoutstanding with absolutely no digital flaws of any kind. Considering theexperimental quality of much of the cinematography, this was no small feat, Iimagine. Nothing even approaching a compression artifact or any pixelization isvisible at all. Black level is deep and sharp, and colors, when used, come acrosswith dreamy precision. There are some negative flaws on some of the older films,but it becomes part of the image rather than a problem, and in many cases the grittyfilm stock was purposeful.

Image Transfer Grade: A
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The entire disc is presented in a 2.0 Surround format. Most of the shorts are centerchannel, Pro-Logic mono. The His Name is Alive videos sound like they're instereo. The clarity of the audio in all of the shorts is extremely good. There is noreal dialogue to speak of, and most of the sound you'll hear is the avant-gardemusical score. The reproduction here is of excellent quality.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Institute Benjamenta
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Brief Interview
  2. Packaging Insert
Extras Review: Beyond the shorts, the disc features two minor extras; an interview snippet with theBrothers Quay and the trailer for their 1995, live action project InstituteBenjamenta. Interestingly, though, the trailer is actually footage from TalesFrom the Vienna Woods.

Presentation-wise the disc features a nice cover and a lengthy insert. The insert isa rather arrogant essay on the Quay's work by Michael Atkinson, in which hedissects the art to death as if he's graciously showing us the true nature of thefilms, as well as what they mean. I found the writings funny since, after eachsection, his comments are countered by the Quays themselves, who humorouslydismiss the analytical comments for obvious reasons.

Extras Grade: B-
 

Final Comments

This disc marks the first DVD I have seen from Kino Video. I'm happy to report thatthe standards for quality and presentation are up the excellent standards they havekept on their VHS work. Their expertise in unusual film and classics of foreigncinema is in good hands in the digital domain. The Brothers Quay Collection is,in my opinion, one of the most important works in modern cinema. While there iscertainly a place for the conventional aspects of cinema, when the rules are bent (orbroken) to create such visual masterworks it's impossible to find fault. Highlyrecommended.

Dan Lopez 2000-08-02