Article written by Emmett Goodman.
The films of the Brothers Quay are complicated. I still find myself confused by them. Yet the constant praise and referrals to their work show that there is more than one opinion. You realize that their dark, surrealist vision and extreme detail connects with many. When you see their films, you may picture a couple of guys who live and work in a dusty building surrounded by countless books.
I have to admit, I am not as familiar with the Quay Brothers’ work as others are. I only know them based on a couple of viewings.
First off, I have to say I am very impressed with the Visual Arts Theater. The place is large, yet not ill-decorated. The stage in front of the screen is big enough for a band to play, yet the screen is large and long enough to show anything. I overhead a couple of conversations within the audience, and got the impression that many of the them (mostly from SVA) were in this theater for the first time.
The reason for the Quays’ appearance is due to an upcoming retrospective next month at the Parsons School. The Quays’ retrospective is currently on exhibit in Philidephia, and they managed to make a stop over in Manhattan. To see them in person and answer questions is quite a treat, as the brothers are known for very few public appearances, especially at their own shows. Yet with a career spanning at least 30 years, they certainly have more than enough to talk about. The Brothers, identical twins Stephen and Timothy, seem very uncertain in front of an audience, and often find themselves finishing each others’ sentences.
The show had a program of three showings. The first is a film called In Absentia, a collaboration with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. In the Q&A afterward, the Brothers made clear how important music is to their films, and how reliant they are upon sound design. Afterward was a 10 minute reel of their commercial work and clips from previous films. The majority of these commercials is highly impressive, some of which can be seen here. Finally a third reel, headed by a long clip from The Phantom Museum. These pieces prompted one audience member to ask the Brothers what was the sexiest piece of art they had ever seen, to which they replied a drawing of Hans Bellmer.
Like Terry Gilliam, whom they were asked about and compared to, the Brothers are not British born, even though they have resided and worked in London their whole career. However they have their own style and, especially, their own world. They seem to come from somewhere very old, yet have a talent for evoking emotion.