I heard it said that when the Alaska Earthquake occurred the earth actually moved ever so slightly on its axis. Sounds a little over-dramatic but my viewing of the short films of the Quay Brothers was somewhat analogous in its effect on my perception of the visual arts.
I came into this a virgin. I'd heard much about them, was aware that they had a hand in the Sledgehammer video, but had never seen any of their films. But when I received my set yesterday and popped it in with the intent of watching one or two, I was so blown away that I had to go back and view it by way of Play All.
What caught me off guard was the total world that they created, as if the camera's POV was capturing only a small sliver of a grander enterprise. But where Tim Burton's work (and he's a clever creator by all means) comes off as somewhat concocted for purposes of entertainment and servile to narrative, the Quays seem to be documenting an actual nether region--and here Bruno Schulz's thirteenth month is appropriate--that already exists. The camera lurks about, always moving, cutting away quickly and at the very moment when a transformation or metamorphosis is occurring. The horizontal axis is no more favored than the vertical. And the speed of movement varies frighteningly; motion frequently ramped up to blur and obscure. The set designs are lavish and meticulous, yet they don't seem to be overly concerned with impressing us with their labors--and here I'm reminded of Dreyer's set for The Passion of Joan of Arc, meticulous and to scale though the camera captured so little of it.
Viewing these films one runs the risk of losing a little of their individual character and element, of blurring their margins; but the reward is seeing their steady development. My favorite aspects of one film were deftly carried forward into the next. And when I thought I hit what would be the high point, The Street of Crocodiles, of which I had heard so much, I was blown away by The Comb, where the otherwise banal presence of a girl sleeping reaches an almost dramatic poignancy when introduced into a world ruled by Old World puppets. She stands (or I should say `lies') between `their' world and `ours', a metamorphosis rendered in black and white, grainy. And after more than an hour of being bombarded with images from an Old World Eastern European dreamscape it was the shot of her thumb running along the tines of a comb that made me gasp. For a moment I was watching a puppet's movement; she had become a member of that world, as in one of those nightmares of being pulled in through the screen into a TV-horrorland.