Brothers Quay scarcities

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Igor: The Paris Years (1982).

More animation, and scarce in the sense that some of these films were omitted from the core Quay Brothers canon released in the UK by the BFI as Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003. Quay obsessives such as myself would have been happy to pay for an extra disc featuring more of their oeuvre but we can at least turn to YouTube to fill in some gaps. This is by no means everything so I may add more discoveries at a later date. Some of the DVD-issued films can be seen on the BFI’s official Daily Motion channel.

I was eager to see the Stravinsky film again having watched it one time only in a Channel 4 screening some 25 years ago. After a fresh viewing it’s not as impressive as I remembered, in part because the Quay’s distinctive approach to animation—and filmmaking generally—developed a great deal following the unforgettable Street of Crocodiles (1986). Igor: The Paris Years concerns the composer’s relationship with Jean Cocteau and Vladimir Mayakovsky, all of whom are animated as cut-out figures in a Modernist cityscape with The Rite of Spring playing on a piano.

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Leos Janácek: Intimate Excursions (1983). Part 2 is here.

In a similar vein, but more successful, is this portrait of Czech composer Leos Janácek. This uses the same cut-out character style but places the composer in Eastern European settings similar (down to the floating tram pantographs) to those seen in the very first Quay film, Nocturna Artificialia (1979). Among the other puppet characters there’s one figure singing an aria who later appears as Enkidu in This Unnameable Little Broom (1985).

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Old Piano (1988).

A very short (and poor quality) ident for MTV.

Continue reading “Brothers Quay scarcities”

The Weird Questionnaire

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A peacock. Photograph by Vidhya Narayanan.

Posted at the Weird Fiction Review in the past week, The Weird (or Étrange) Questionnaire is Éric Poindron’s Weird (or Étrange) riposte to the Proust Questionnaire. I’d read the post, and seen Jeff VanderMeer’s answers to the questions, but wasn’t planning on answering it myself until Neddal Ayad wrote asking whether I’d be willing to do so for a future WFR assembly of responses. So here we are. The rules are as follows:

…there are sixty questions (twice as many as most versions of the Proust Questionnaire). Spend no more than a minute on each, and an hour in total. However, don’t keep checking your watch: “let writing define time.”

In the end I took longer than an hour but the time limit is a good idea, otherwise I’d have spent far too long pondering, revising, qualifying remarks, unqualifying the qualifications, and so on. Deadlines have their uses.


The Weird Questionnaire

1: Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.

The first night of winter moonlight revealed a pattern of tiny runic figures etched inside the window glass.

2: Without looking at your watch: what time is it?

01:15

3: Look at your watch. What time is it?

01:20

4: How do you explain this—or these—discrepancy(ies) in time?

It’s always later than you think.

5: Do you believe in meteorological predictions?

“Believe” seems the wrong word in this context since the question concerns a conjecture based on scientific study. Short-range forecasts are fine, long-range ones seldom seem to be.

6: Do you believe in astrological predictions?

If this refers to newspaper columns, they’re always so vague they may as well be computer-generated. Maybe they are.

7: Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?

Yes, when I’m out of the city.

8: What do you think of the sky and stars by night?

My bad eyesight (the stars are always a blur), the length of time the light has taken to reach us, how the familiarity of the few stars we do manage to see shields us from the true immensity of the stellar gulfs.

9: What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?

A guest post by Clive Hicks-Jenkins on Kathe Koja’s blog.

10: What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?

Further appreciation of the values of art, architecture and related crafts. In the case of cathedrals: astonishment at the feats of labour required to build them in a pre-industrial age; their presence as sites of accumulated history.

Continue reading “The Weird Questionnaire”

The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen

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Lejf Marcussen is a Danish filmmaker whose animation Den Offentlige Røst (The Public Voice, 1988) I know from UK TV screenings, back in the days when the TV channels here used to screen more than cookery shows and soap operas. This is a short Surrealist piece which begins with zoom into a Paul Delvaux painting then reverses the process by pulling back from a continually changing picture some of whose details can be seen here. It is, of course, better to watch the film than read a description of it which is why I kept hoping a copy might turn up on YouTube. Sure enough, a rough copy has been languishing there for two years so I suggest you watch it here while you have the chance. These obscure shorts have a habit of getting deleted, and this miniature marvel is more obscure than most.

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Update: changed the link to a better quality version. Thanks, Martin!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Patrick Bokanowski again
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Patrick Bokanowski again

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“A prolonged, dense and visually visceral experience of the kind that is rare in cinema today. Difficult to define and locate, its strangeness is quite unique. That its elements are not constructed in a traditional way should not be a barrier to those who wish to cross the bridge to what Jean-Luc Godard proposed as the real story of the cinema—real in the sense of being made of images and sounds rather than texts and illustrations.”—Keith Griffiths

It was only two months ago that I enthused about Patrick Bokanowski’s extraordinary 1982 film, L’Ange, after a TV screening was posted at Ubuweb, and ended by wondering whether a DVD copy was available anywhere. Last week Jayne Pilling left a comment on that post alerting me to the film’s availability via the BAA site; I immediately ordered a copy which arrived the next day. So yes, Bokanowski’s film is now available in both PAL and NTSC formats, and the disc includes a short about the making of L’Ange as well as preparatory sketches and an interview with composer Michèle Bokanowski whose score goes a long way to giving the film its unique atmosphere. I mentioned earlier how reminiscent Bokanowski’s film was of later works by the Brothers Quay so it’s no surprise seeing an approving quote from the pair on the DVD packaging:

“Magisterial images seething in the amber of transcendent soundscapes. Drink in these films through eyes and ears.”

If that wasn’t enough, there’s another DVD of the director’s short films available. Anyone who likes David Lynch’s The Grandmother or Eraserhead, or the Quays’ Street of Crocodiles, really needs to see L’Ange.

Previously on { feuilleton }
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD

L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski

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The good people at Ubuweb have excelled themselves by turning up this 70-minute avant garde work by a director who’d managed to stay resolutely off my radar despite years spent delving for cinematic weirdness. L’Ange (1982) is a film which stands comparison with the more abstracted moments of David Lynch and the Brothers Quay. In fact some scenes (and the music) are so reminiscent of parts of the Quay canon I’d suspect an influence if I didn’t consider that an unfair diminishing of the Brothers’ own considerable talents. So what is L’Ange? Trying to describe this film isn’t exactly easy so it’s simpler to hijack Ubuweb’s own précis:

During the seventy minutes of The Angel, viewers see a series of distinct sequences arranged upward along a staircase that seems more mythic than literal. Each of the sequences has its own mood and type of action. Early in the film, a fencer thrusts, over and over, at a doll hanging from the ceiling of a bare room. At first, he is seen in the room at the end of a narrow hallway off the staircase, and later from within the room. He fences, sits in a chair, fences – his movements filmed with a technique that lies somewhere between live action and still photographs. At times, Bokanowski’s imagery is reminiscent of Etienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotographs. Further up the stairs, we find ourselves in a room where a maid brings a jug of milk to a man without hands, over and over. Still later, we are in a room where there seems to be a movie projector pointing at us. Then, in a sequence reminiscent of Méliès and early Chaplin, a man frolics in a bathtub, and in a subsequent sequence gets up, dresses in reverse motion, and leaves for work. The film’s most elaborate sequence takes place in a library in which nine identical librarians work busily in choreographed, slightly fast motion. When the librarians leave work, they are seen in extreme long shot, running in what appears to be a two-dimensional space, ultimately toward a naked woman trapped in a box, which they enter with a battering ram. Then, back in the room with the projector, we are presented with an artist and model in a composition that, at first, declares itself two-dimensional until the artist and model move, revealing that this “obviously” flat space is fact three-dimensional. Finally, a visually stunning passage of projected light reflecting off a series of mirrors introduces The Angel‘s final sequence, of beings on a huge staircase filmed from below; the beings seem to be ascending toward some higher realm. Bokanowski’s consistently distinctive visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Michèle Bokanowski, Patrick Bokanowski’s wife and collaborator. Like Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Bokanowski’s The Angel creates a world that is visually quite distinct from what we consider “reality,” while providing a wide range of implicit references to it and to the history of representing those levels of reality that lie beneath and beyond the conventional surfaces of things.

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Asking what it all means is pointless, we’re in the world of dreams here and once again we see how film is able to capture the ambience of dream states in a way no other artform can manage. For an obviously low-budget production there’s real craft and control at work throughout L’Ange, not least in the excellent score—a blend of strings and electronics—which could easily stand alone. Many experimental films of this type quickly outstay their welcome via prolonged repetition or a failure to exploit the imaginative potential of their techniques. Like Lynch and the Quays, Bokanowski successfully balances on the dividing line between narrative and abstraction, finding images unlike any we’ve seen elsewhere. Yes, I enjoyed this a lot, and now I want to watch it again on DVD (if such a thing exists). Anyone who enjoys The Grandmother or Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies is advised to set aside seventy minutes of their time.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD