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Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Epic of Gilgamesh
Also known as This Unnameable Little Broom and Little Songs of the Chief Officer of Hunar Louse (Being a Largely Disguised Reduction of The Epic of Gilgamesh), Tableau II, The Epic of Gilgamesh constitutes an 11 minute surrealist puppet film, conceived and shot by the famed Quay Brothers, Stephen and Timothy. The premise concerns Gilgamesh, a slightly demented, hydrocephalic dwarf boy riding his tricycle around a "sandbox kingdom." He attempts to seduce Enduku, a wild creature who resides in a forest (which actually constitutes a bird skull decorated with an array of exotic, multicolored feathers). Gilgamesh sends a prostitute, then sets a trap comprised of a mound of bloody flesh and a vulva-shaped trapdoor with a mechanical apparatus. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Tales From the Vienna Woods
Tales from the Vienna Woods (1992) constitutes a black-and-white, 3-minute animated short and the tertiary installment of The Quay Brothers' "Stille Nacht" series. Through the use of heavy, arcane and repetitive symbolism (with the actual event never depicted), the film plays and replays an incident in the woods, where a deer is shot in the testicles. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Can't Go Wrong Without You
Can't Go Wrong Without You, part four of famed animators Stephen and Timothy Quay's "Stille Nacht" film series, revisits the basic compositional material of "Stille Nacht II" (Are We Still Married?). The Quays once again use animation to "orchestrate" the movements of a stuffed white rabbit and a tattered female doll to a pop song by the group His Name is Alive. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Comb
Adapted from a fragment of text by the Austrian writer Robert Walser, the 17-minute Quay Brothers short The Comb opens with the image of a sleeping princess and then delves into her dream world, where the tunnels of the mind literalize, and become a mazelike, labyrinthine playhouse patrolled and explored by a roving doll figure. Stephen and Timothy Quay shot the film as a blend of animation and live-action, enveloped in a mythic golden aesthetic. On the soundtrack, they overlay a haunting score of violin and guitar notes, co-mingled with the cries, murmurs and whispers of the subconscious mind. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer
With The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Stephen and Timothy Quay pay tribute to the Czech animator Svankmajer (their mentor) through a series of brief symbolic episodes featuring a literally bookish professor -- the pages of the book emerge from his open skull -- and a young child. In a dream-like room featuring multitudinous drawers, the professor teaches a series of lessons, including several which suggest learning stop-motion animation itself. Both pieces feature the Quays' trademark obsessively detailed, carefully orchestrated visuals in the service of mysterious, unsettling, dream-like narratives. ~ Judd Blaise, Rovi

Dramolet
Stephen and Timothy Quay conceived and shot Dramolet (1988), the first film in their multipart Still Nacht series, as a two-minute short for an MTV Art Break, after gaining fame for their work on Peter Gabriel's wondrous "Sledgehammer" music video. The Quays shot the film on patchy, grainy stock, in deep chiaroscuro (to emulate the "gothic" aesthetic of the German expressionist films), with German-language credits opening and closing the piece, and a heavy, dark onslaught of foreboding organ music by Lzydor Hoffman on the soundtrack. Dramolet begins with a cracked and ragged puppet (with no hair and empty sockets for eyes) watching through the window of his cabin as a visual symphony of iron filings unfolds on the ground, the filings dancing around a magnet and eventually clustering atop it. The filings eventually materialize in the puppet's soup bowl, as he sits at a wooden table with a metal spoon before him, and he studies them dancing and gyrating in his dish. Spoons then briefly emerge, en masse, from the wall behind the puppet, and the utensil on the table doubles, then blurs, and scuttles over several inches toward the puppet's hand. As the film fades out and then back in for a second, the puppet begins to reach into his bowl. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Anamorphosis
Anamorphosis is one of the few examples of an "animated documentary." The 15-minute film, richly laden with detailed English-language narration, actually constitutes a detailed lecture, where Stephen and Timothy Quay use animation to explore the now forgotten 17th and 18th century art form of the title. The Quays reveal how, in that practice, special paintings employ visual distortion to disclose hidden messages and symbols when viewed from different angles. Leszek Jankowski composed the score. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

In Absentia
Street of Crocodiles
Based on a novel by Bruno Schultz and directed by the Brothers Quay, The Street of Crocodiles is an animated 21-minute absurdist take on a war-torn Polish city made sterile after suffering mass industrial decay. Individuals feel alienated from the rest of society while the reigning bureaucracy consistently chooses to promote consumption and materialism rather than working for the greater good of its citizens. ~ Tracie Cooper, Rovi

The Phantom Museum
Are We Still Married?
As part two of The Brothers Quay's "Still Nacht" series, the 3-minute, black-and-white animated short Are We Still Married? constitutes an animated "ballet" of a stuffed white rabbit, a tattered female doll, and a ping-pong ball. The Quays choreograph and orchestrate the objects into a fluid symphony of movement, set to the haunting song of the title, as performed by the pop group His Name is Alive. The work loosely suggests thematic influence from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies
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