I've seen several Quay Brothers shorts. They are true masterpieces of surreal stop-motion animation. Each takes you on a journey into the realms of nuanced dark suspense, whimsical innocence, and heart-felt enchantment via the accomplished skills of their magical craft. One almost has the sense of witnessing something perverse and secret. Parables of matter's struggle to become soulful, at whatever tragic price. **************************************************************************************** "The Brothers Quay are among the most accomplished animation artists to emerge in recent years. Their fantastic decor and Kafkaesque puppets, attention to the liberation of the mistake and their casual and lingering closeups combine in an ingenious alchemy of unconscious, metaphoric vision. Watching any of their animated films means entering a dream world of metaphor and visual poetry. In their own words: "Puppet films by their very nature are extremely artificial constructions, even more so depending at what level of 'enchantment' one would wish for them in relation to the subject, and, above all, the conceptual mise-en-scène applied." The enchantment of the Quays' films has won them audiences throughout the world, and their innovations have introduced a new quality of poetry to animated film. Stephen and Timothy Quay were born near Philadelphia in 1947. After studies at the Philadelphia College of Art, they moved to London and attended the Royal College of Art, where they made their first puppet films. After the release of prize-winning Nocturnia Artificialia in 1980, they founded Koninck Studios in London together with Keith Griffins, whom they had met at the Royal College of Art. The Quay Brothers Trained as illustrators, their films give greater attention to mise-en-scène and the marginal, and are more associative than narrative: "We demand that the decor act as poetic vessels and be foregrounded as much as the puppets themselves. In fact, we ask of our machines and objects to act as much if not more than the puppets ... as for what is called the scenario: at most we have only a limited musical sense of its trajectory, and we tend to be permanently open to vast uncertainties, mistakes, disorientations (as though lying in wait to trap the slightest fugitive encounter)." In addition to puppet films, the Quays' work encompasses various animated shorts and advertising commissions (including documentaries on Punch and Judy, Stravinsky, Janácek and the art of Anamorphosis "De Artificiali Perspectiva," and station/network I.D.'s (Channel 4, MTV). They have designed theater and opera productions (Mazeppa, A Flea in Her Ear, The Love of Three Oranges) for various European venues and made music videos, including collaborating on Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, and promos for Michael Penn and His Name is Alive. A Locus of Literary and Poetic Fragments Their films reveal the influence of Eastern European culture: whether inspired by animators, composers, or writers, a middle European esthetic seems to have beckoned them into a mysterious locus of literary and poetic fragments, wisps of music, the play of light and morbid textures. Certain films can be considered homages to filmmakers whose work they admire (The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer), others present their own intuitive and visionary encounters with authors, artists and composers whose writings and compositions are transformed into the cinematic medium: Street of Crocodiles, is loosely based on Bruno Schulz's short story, "Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies," and was inspired by a print by Fragonard. The observed incorporation of other media, which brought the Quays from 2D illustration to animation, continues in their most recent film: The Institute Benjamenta, their first full-length live-action film completed last year. The film has received awards at numerous festivals and has just been released in the US. The illustrious mastery achieved in their exquisite and uncanny animated films is continued in this film's decor, labyrinthian narrative and esthetic composition within the frame. The Institute Benjamenta was shot in black and white, enabling the subtlety of chiaroscuro, an animated choreography of light and stark graphics to disorient, capture and enchant audiences. The few animated scenes within the film are isolated interludes, expressions of subjective vision and poetic metaphor. They contribute to the dream-like quality of a film which, as in their animated films, is uncannily freed of laws of time and space. This and future live-action projects are by no means an indication of a move away from animation: the Brothers Quay intend to explore the potential which slumbers in the combination of these cinematic techniques. The formal possibilities inherent in animation are essential to the dream, inner vision and narrative meandering so essential to their cinematic transformations of text, poetry and imagination. A Dreamlike Voyage Carl Orff's music and a spoken riddle are the aural foreshadowing which accompany the film's exquisite, stylized opening credits. At dusk, a small man approaches a door, pulls at his heavily starched, blindingly white collar and hesitantly knocks. Jakob von Gunten (Mark Rylance), a thirtyish, delicate man who "wants to be of use to someone in this life" enters the Institute Benjamenta, a school for domestics, and embarks on a dreamlike voyage through an eerie, metaphysical fairy tale world. Assisted by her devoted and enigmatic model student Kraus (Daniel Smith), doe-eyed Fraulein Lisa Benjamenta (Alice Kriege) runs the institute with her brother Herr Benjamenta (Gottfried John), guiding her students through a lesson which is always the same, "Practice-scenes-from-life"; mechanical repetition, self-castigation, monotony and submission. It is a curriculum of cryptic signs, absurd gestures and unbearable detail. Jakob's arrival awakes in Herr Benjamenta a haunting hope of a Savior, with discrete homoerotic undertones. The fragmented, dark and obscure relationship between brother and sister and Kraus climaxes in Lisa's decision to stop living; she is "dying from those who could have seen and held me ... dying from the emptiness of cautious and clever people." Jakob stirs Lisa from a loveless existence, causing a horrific recognition of something unspeakable which gnaws at her until she can no longer bear it. After a confession to Jakob sealed with a fleeting brush of her lips on his, she expires. On her bier, like Snow White mourned by her dwarfs, her brother bent over her in grief, Lisa's eyes open and sparkle darkly into the camera. Jakob and Herr Benjamenta leave the Institute, but Kraus remains behind. Guardian of the fish bowl, the riddle and the sleeping beauty, Kraus is the constancy who seems to guarantee that rituals and fossils like the Institute will never fully expire. A terrifying sense of the sublime simultaneously haunts and mystifies the Institute and its inhabitants. In isolation, the film's visual leitmotifs and iconography are exquisite: totemistic cloven hoofs, deer antlers, flowing waters; in their sublimation and appropriation in a world of suppressed Victorian eroticism, they become obsessive, dark and ambiguous. School mistress Lisa Benjamenta's cane, with which she guides and masters her students, is tipped with a tiny hoof (initially the Quays thought to give her cloven shoes); Herr Benjamenta's foot is seen hoofed, and in a disturbing moment we see him rutting in front of a steam-streaked mirror, a majestic set of antlers in his arms. A stunning use of light gives the film its ethereal quality. Short animated sequences punctuate the film and complete the fairy tale environment, suspending time; they are minute and discrete visualizations, reminders of a metaphysical life which slumbers in the Institute..."