Weird and Wonderful: The Brothers Quay

Street of Crocodiles stillI’m not an expert in animation. Brenda has that distinction around here. I know very little about it, but that’s not going to stop me from pontificating on the subject. Alright, forget it. I won’t pontificate. I’ll just say it right out: I love the Quay Brothers. Have no idea what they’re doing, but whatever it is, it’s fantastic.

What is the term for this thing they do? Stop-motion animation? They create the appearance of movement by painstakingly photographing three-dimensional objects such as screws, strings, and dolls thousands of times with miniscule changes in position of the objects each time. The still photos are then played back in series so the inanimate object appears to be animated. It’s the claymation model.

What’s great about the Quay Brothers’ work is the attention to set detail. There’s so much to look at. And the choice of their subject matter. Who knew screws could be so entertaining? I can only imagine what goes on in Home Depot when the last do it yourselfer checks out and the “Open for Business” sign gets flipped around each night.

The scenery, the dolls, the music is dark and moody. Not spooky, but melancholy. The windows and other glass objects appear time- or acid-etched. The tools and machines look old, like foot pumped sewing machines in dusty shops that haven’t been open for business in decades. The dolls appear to have been resurrected from a dump, or left behind in the street by an unloving child. It’s dark and depressing in an iron curtain way. I can’t always follow the story, but I get the feeling something sad is happening or a part of humanity is somehow lost. This is not your Saturday morning cartoon.

The Quays live in London now, but were originally from Pennsylvania. Hard to imagine such lovely dread coming from the land of relentless optimism.

For an example take a look at their best known work, the 1986 “Street of Crocodiles”.

Sue Lange
We Robots cover



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