a fantastic fermentation of matter*

There are all sorts of exciting things going on in Manchester at the moment as part of the Manchester International Festival, not to mention the brilliant, and more affordable, Not Part Of Festival (which I'm taking part in a couple of events at). But one thing that particularly caught my eye in the MIF programme is that the Quay Brothers have been commissioned to create a new stop-motion animated film which is being shown as part of a performance of 'virtuosic chamber music' by violinist Alina Ibragimova (full details here). It sounds amazing but, alas, I can't afford a ticket. It does give me the perfect excuse to post one of my favourite films by the Quay Brothers here, though...



The Quay Brothers are identical twins, born near Philadelphia, now living in London, who make extraordinary and unsettling films, many of them short stop-motion animations. If you've never encountered their work before I urge you to watch some now.

Street of Crocodiles draws on Bruno Schulz's book of the same name (although that's the title it tends to go under in English, the translation of the original title is The Cinnamon Shops). Schulz, a Polish writer and artist killed by a Gestapo officer in 1942, wrote wonderful and incredibly strange fiction (I urge you to read the book, too). I've found it next to impossible to choose an excerpt to include because it's all so good, but the following is fairly typical:
'in old apartments there are rooms which are sometimes forgotten. Unvisited for months on end, they wilt neglected between the old walls and it happens that they close in on themselves, become overgrown with bricks, and, lost once and for all to our memory, forfeit their only claim to existence. The doors, leading to them from some backstairs landing, have been overlooked by people living in the apartment so long that they merge with the wall, grow into it, and all trace of them is obliterated in a complicated design of lines and cracks.'
The Quays didn't create a literal adaption of Schulz's story but gathered elements from it, mixed them with their own fantastical visions and let the concoction grow into something new. The Quays make films that are engaging but not comfortably comprehensible; full of darkness and light, dust, living tissue, marionettes, broken dolls, and mundane objects given life. We often view their worlds through peepholes or from strange angles. They've said they want to 'make a world that is seen through a dirty plane of glass' and that's the perfect way to view Schulz's world, where in a 'many-raftered forest of attics' darkness can 'degenerate and ferment wildly'.

Music is integral to the Quays' films. They've talked about an infiltration that takes place where you 'hear the images, and you see the music...The music feels like it is inside the image'. To finish, here's their description of the way they work with music and also something important to bear in mind when watching their films:
'We always have a loose scenario, a through-line scenario. Once the film gets going, we start building the d├ęcors, we redivide the scenario, we start to really listen to the music. And the film grows, in that way, organically. We shoot the film, and it comes back the next morning. We lay it up against the score, and we see if it’s working. If it isn’t working, we shoot it again. It sort of goes all the way down like that. It was like that with the Stockhausen piece [in In Absentia] especially. We could barely work more then 10 seconds at a time. The music was so ferocious. We said: “Let’s just do a little a day.” It provoked us. In fact, we much prefer to obey musical laws because it’s not logical. You can’t print logic on music; it’s outside of that. I know it can alienate people but others will go with it and if you go with it, you’ll discover something. If you resist it, the films will fail for you, and they’ll fail precisely if you keep asking: “What’s it about?”'
(taken from this interview)

Other films by the Quays that are available to watch legally online (these links work in the UK, fingers crossed they'll work elsewhere too):
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies
Tales from Vienna Woods
The Comb 
Anamorphosis
In Absentia
The Phantom Museum
Nocturna Artificialia
The BFI DVD of their films from 1979 - 2003

Alina Ibragimova & The Quay Brothers is on at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester until 17th July.



*nicked from Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories. I have the Penguin Classics edition translated by Celina Wieniewska. As I can't resist including another quote, the full sentence is: 'Here my father began to set before our eyes the picture of that generatio aequivoca which he had dreamed up, a species of beings only half-organic, a kind of pseudofauna and pseudoflora, the result of a fantastic fermentation of matter.'