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Blu-ray: Quay Brothers - Inner Sanctums | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Quay Brothers - Inner Sanctums

Blu-ray: Quay Brothers - Inner Sanctums

'Collected Animated Films 1979-2013': sublime, macabre animation from the maverick twins

The stuff of nightmares: 'Street of Crocodiles'

Conveniently released as the nights get darker and the shadows lengthen, Inner Sanctums is a package to give nervous viewers nightmares. Stop-motion animators Stephen and Timothy Quay moved from Philadelphia to London in 1969 after winning scholarships to study at the Royal College of Art. They've been here ever since.

Some of this material was included in a previous BFI compilation, but among the new extras is a beautifully shot mini-documentary directed by Quays fan Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s camera shows the twin brothers at work in their Southwark studio: a cramped, dusty marvel of a place, full of dismembered dolls, puppet heads and antique equipment. The otherworldly pair’s affability is at odds with the unsettling strangeness of the films: the earliest, Nocturna Artificalia (1979), is a shadowy, Kafkaesque noir, making brilliant use of sound.

It's incredible to think that the The Unnameable Little Broom (pictured below right) and Street of Crocodiles (main picture) were commissioned by an enlightened Channel 4, the former part of a planned extravaganza based on the legend of Gilgamesh (“After they saw the pilot, they cancelled the project”). Several moments are wince-inducing, but the technique is dazzling. Crocodiles, based on short stories by Polish writer Bruno Schulz, is a minor masterpiece which gets better with repeated viewings, and it’s fun to learn that the tailor’s bizarre arm movements were based on those of an axolotl seen in London Zoo.

The Quays’ skill lies in making inanimate objects spring to vivid life, the fixed faces of dolls and puppets rendered eerily expressive. The pair’s influence on pop videos is apparent from watching the four Stille Nacht films, including commissions from MTV. Anamorphosis’s art history lesson is visually stylish, the stagey narration never intrusive.

Several of the later shorts do seem to be treading water: Songs for Dead Children and Eurydice, She So Beloved are both murky affairs. Alice in Not So Wonderland, from 2007, marks a return to form, but better still is Through the Weeping Glass, a skewed peek at the macabre Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Again, some sequences will unsettle the squeamish – notably a graphic demonstration of what a scarificator does, and a terrifying look at oriental foot-binding. A bonus interview between the brothers and a bewildered museum director is unintentionally amusing.

Included are 24 short films are included, three being UK premieres and five world premieres. A disc of special features also has footnotes, interviews, rare behind-the-scenes footage along with the Nolan documentary.  Remastered visuals and sound are immaculate, and a number of the films can be enjoyed with accompanying directors’ commentaries. Their deadpan delivery is a delight. Who’d have guessed that “sawing an antler in half produces the smell of semen”? A treat.

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