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The Quay Brothers

Into a Metaphysical Playroom

Suzanne Buchan

Publication Year: 2011

This work is the first thorough analysis of the creative oeuvre of the Quay Brothers. Known for their animation shorts that rely on puppetry, miniatures, and stop-motion techniques, their fiercely idiosyncratic films are fertile fields for Suzanne Buchan's engaging descriptions and provocative insights into the Quays' art-and into the art of independent puppet animation.

Buchan's aesthetic investigation stems from extensive access to the Quay Brothers' artistic practices and work, which spans animation and live-action film, stage design and illustration. She also draws on a long acquaintance with them and on interviews with collaborators essential to their productions, as well as archival sources. Discussions of their films' literary origins, space, puppets, montage, and the often-overlooked world of sound and music in animation shed new light on the expressive world that the Quay Brothers generate out of their materials to create the poetic alchemy of their films.

At once a biography of the Quays' artistic trajectory and a detailed examination of one of their best-known films, Street of Crocodiles, this book goes further and provides interdisciplinary methodologies and tools for the analysis of animation.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The writing of this book thrived on more than ten years of exchange and discussion with passionate individuals from many disciplines and walks of life who gradually configured into a network of inspiration, collusive mischief, and support. I proffer thanks to them here, in no particular order. ...

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pp. xi-xxvii

Years ago, while writing a master’s thesis on James Joyce’s cinematic language, I watched a screening of the Quay Brothers’ Street of Crocodiles (1986). I was immediately enthralled by the beauty of the images, but I could not pinpoint what was so striking and emotionally moving about the film. ...

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1. Authentic Trappers in Metaphysical Playrooms

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pp. 1-38

To watch any film from the Quay Brothers is to enter a complicity of furtive glances, choreographed shadows, and a mélange of motifs and tropes. Their opus exhibits an instantly recognizable and often emulated style, a shifting composite of chiaroscuro and an assemblage of obscure objects and fragmented, skeletal narrative structures. ...

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2. Palimpsests, Fragments, Vitalist Affinities

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pp. 39-74

Now that we are equipped with a sense of the Quays’ creative origins and their trajectory from the United States to London, from illustration to the moving image, this chapter will unfold some of the literary, thematic, and aesthetic origins that the later work commencing with Street of Crocodiles engages with: ...

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3. Traversing the Esophagus

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pp. 75-100

A closer look into recesses and corners of the Quay Brothers’ studio beyond the glass cases and bookshelves reveals how it is brimming with paraphernalia and tools. Compasses, screwdrivers, files, bits and pieces of old metals, puppet armature parts, filigree wires, and pulleys are meticulously arranged in cupboards, shelves, and drawers and attest to the artisanal skills their films require. ...

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4. Puppets and Metaphysical Machines

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pp. 101-134

Puppets and automata have transfixed audiences for centuries and hold a prominent position in artistic and critical discourses around cultures, human behavior, and the imaginary world. They continue to have a huge range of use within contemporary arts, performance, and film. ...

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5. Negotiating the Labyrinth

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pp. 135-166

There is a range of influences throughout the history of art to which critics and curators refer to bring the Quay Brothers in stylistic proximity with other artists. But in cinema this remains a small group of experimental and auteur filmmakers. Cineastes whom the Quays mention as having had a particular influence on them are Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Robert Bresson, ...

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6. The Secret Scenario of Soundscapes

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pp. 167-198

Music permeates the Quay Brothers’ studio. The rafters and corners are imbued with compositions from Eastern European composers, madrigals, violin sonatas, avant-garde instrumentals, more contemporary minimalist jazz, and shortwave recordings from distant lands. ...

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7. The Animated Frame and Beyond

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pp. 199-234

The critical success of Street of Crocodiles gave the Quays artistic freedom to explore a shift in subject matter, in part originating in literary and poetic sources that led to exploration of new aesthetic forms, but also because they were able to make extensive experiments in technique, both with cameras and on large stage sets. ...

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8. These Things Never Happen But Are Always

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pp. 235-256

This chapter explores the Quay Brothers’ two completed feature films as both variations on and culminations of their other creative works. It also proffers a summary of their poetics in works completed when this book was finished. The chapter’s (and this book’s) conclusion is an open one; ...

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pp. 257-268

The Quay Brothers’ live-action and puppet animation films are informed by a conceptual dialectics rooted in profound knowledge of the histories and aesthetics of painting, illustration, performance, literature, and architecture, including the –isms of modernist art practice, poetry, and cinema. ...


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pp. 269-284


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pp. 285-294

Works of the Quay Brothers

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pp. 295-298

Index, About the Author, Color Plates follow page 311

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pp. 299-311

E-ISBN-13: 9780816674978
E-ISBN-10: 0816674973
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816646593

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011