The Quay Brothers: The Short Films, 1979-2003

The Quay Brothers: The Short Films, 1979-2003

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Read Amber Wilkinson's film review of The Quay Brothers: The Short Films, 1979-2003

The Quay brothers collaborated extensively with the BFI on this excellent double-disc box set – and all the hard work as paid off, with the package as off-beat as their films.

It’s hard, however, to know which elements of the disc to confine to ‘extras’, since all the films, including the channel idents bear distinct hallmarks of the twins’ work.

Copy picture

Clearly falling into the ‘extras’ category, however, are the excellent commentary tracks on The Unnameable Little Broom, Street Of Crocodiles, Stille Nacht I: Dramolet, Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married, Stille Nacht III: Tales From Vienna Woods and In Absentia.

The Quays are extremely entertaining, if off-the-wall companions, revealing off-kilter inspirations - including an axolotl; hidden jokes – a passport number reference to troubles with their visa; and an insight into their inspirations and intentions.

Disc 2 contains Nocturna Artificialia – the Quays' debut short – placed here at their behest, presumably as, although being unmistakeably theirs, it suffers from being of slightly poorer quality than the bulk of their work.

In addition to BFI and BBC idents, there are also alternative versions of In Absentia and Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies, in 2.35:1 – the Quays preferred, anamorphic presentation.

By far the most entertaining extras on the second disc, however, are two interviews with the brothers. One, shot this year, is a serious contemplation of their work, which sees them discuss the difficulties of securing commissions - they’re “looking for another Channel 4” – and the process by which they create. Curiously, there is no indication of which twin is which, presumably this is deliberate, though after research, I think that Stephen is the more garrulous, while Timothy is the quieter of the two, with more of an English twang to his accent. Irrespective - and if anyone knows for sure, please let me know - they come across as thoughtful, self-effacing chaps, if a bit serious.

This image, however, is quickly dispelled when you watch the accompanying interview on the disc. Shot in 2000, in a puppet museum and France, dodgy camerawork and the language barrier see the brothers finding it hard to contain their amusement and yet coming across as all round good eggs, as they struggle manfully to answer the questions posed. Their reaction to a question about Tim Burton is nothing short of marvellous, as they desperately try to respond politically. They also pass their verdict on merchandising – “terrifying” - and become wonderfully preoccupied with the cleanliness of the puppets in the museum which they feel is full of “excruciating sweetness”.

In terms of the visual quality on the disc it is hard to imagine how it could be bettered, at least in this format. New high-definition digital masters were made for the release “using new 35mm and 16mm interpositive elements struck from the original filim negatives”. It’s clear the images have been cleaned up but care has been taken – under the supervision of the Quays – not to ‘correct’ intentional anomalies.

The soundtracks, too, have undergone a digital restoration and, since they are integral to the Quays' work – which has very little in the way of dialogue – they are an added joy.

Subtitling, though largely unnecessary to enjoy the films is present and also covers all the commentary tracks and extra features.

Adding to the disc two miscellany – which begins to take on the feel of one of the museums that so preoccupy the Quays – is an excerpt from Peter Greenaway’s The Falls, in which the brothers are presented as the Fallari Brothers – though, they are only seen in photographs. Plus there’s a comprehensive booklet, with cover art designed by them, featuring an introduction, a dictionary of terminology and influences and the original treatment for Street Of Crocodiles.

It's true that not all of the Quays’ short work is here - there were music rights issues over some and, inevitably, a few prints have got lost along the way, but this is still an extremely comprehensive and well-composed set, which brilliantly illustrates the brothers’ unique, if slightly unhinged contribution to animation and puppetry.

Reviewed on: 13 Dec 2006
Share this with others on...
The Quay Brothers: The Short Films, 1979-2003 packshot
Celebration of the weird and wonderful short film puppetry and animation work of the Quay Brothers.
Amazon link

Product Code: BFIVD653

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.33.1 - with In Absentia andd Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies also presented in anamorphic 2.35:1. The Comb, a version of Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies, a version of In Absentia and The Phantom Museum are presented in anamorphic 16:9.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0

Extras: Short film contents on disc one: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, This Unnameable Little Broom, Street Of Crocodiles, Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies, Stille Nacht I: Dramolet, The Comb, Anamorphosis, Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married, Stille Nacht III: Tales Of Vienna Woods, Stille Nacht I: Can't Go Wrong Without You, The Phatom Museum. Disc 2 contents: BFI Distribution ident, Introduction by the Quay Brothers, Nocturna Artificialia, The Calligrapher, The Summit, Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies, In Absentia, The Falls Archive interview.

Search database: