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Brothers Quay

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Brothers Quay

The Brothers Quay
The Brothers Quay
Born (1947-06-17) June 17, 1947
Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation film directors, animators

Stephen and Timothy Quay ( ; born June 17, 1947) are American identical twin brothers better known as the Brothers Quay or Quay Brothers. They are influential stop-motion animators. They are also the recipients of the 1998 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design for their work on the play The Chairs.


The Quay Brothers reside and work in England, having moved there in 1969 to study at the Royal College of Art, London [1] after studying illustration (Timothy) and film (Stephen) at the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In England they made their first short films, which no longer exist after the only print was irreparably damaged. They spent some time in the Netherlands in the 1970s and then returned to England where they teamed up with another Royal College student, Keith Griffiths, who produced all of their films. In 1980 the trio formed Koninck Studios, which is currently based in Southwark, south London.

The Quay Brothers' works (1979–present) show a wide range of often esoteric influences, starting with the Polish animators Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica and continuing with the writers Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser and Michel de Ghelderode, puppeteers Wladyslaw Starewicz and Czech Richard Teschner and Czech composers Leoš Janáček, Zdeněk Liška and Polish Leszek Jankowski, the last of whom has created many original scores for their work. Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, for whom they named one of their films (The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer), is also frequently cited as a major influence, but they actually discovered his work relatively late, in 1983, by which time their characteristic style and preoccupations had been fully formed.[2] At a panel discussion with Daniel Bird and Andrzej Klimowski at the Aurora festival Norwich they emphasized the more significant influence on their work was Walerian Borowczyk, who made both animation shorts and live-action features.

Most of their animation films feature puppets made of doll parts and other organic and inorganic materials, often partially disassembled, in a dark, moody atmosphere. Perhaps their best known work is Street of Crocodiles, based on the short novel of the same name by the Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz. This short film was selected by director and animator Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time,[3] and critic Jonathan Romney included it on his list of the ten best films in any medium (for Sight and Sound's 2002 critics' poll).[4] They have made two feature-length live action films: Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, produced by Keith Griffiths and Janine Marmot, and The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes, produced by Keith Griffiths. They also directed an animated sequence in the film Frida.

With very few exceptions, their films have no meaningful spoken dialogue—most have no spoken content at all, while some, such as The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1990) include multilingual background gibberish that is not intended to be coherently understood. Accordingly, their films are highly reliant on their music scores, many of which have been written especially for them by the Polish composer Leszek Jankowski. In 2000, they contributed a short film to the BBC's Sound On Film series in which they visualised a 20-minute piece by the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Whenever possible, the Quays prefer to work with pre-recorded music, though Gary Tarn's score for The Phantom Museum had to be added afterwards when it proved impossible to license music by the Czech composer Zdeněk Liška.

They have created music videos for His Name Is Alive ("Are We Still Married", "Can't Go Wrong Without You"), Michael Penn ("Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)") and 16 Horsepower ("Black Soul Choir"). Some people mistakenly believe that the Quays are responsible for several music videos for Tool, but those videos were created by Fred Stuhr and member Adam Jones, whose work is influenced by the Quays. Although they worked on Peter Gabriel's seminal video "Sledgehammer" (1986) as animators, this was directed by Stephen R. Johnson and the Quays were unhappy with their contribution, believing it to be more imitative of Švankmajer's work than truly distinctive in its own right.

Before turning to film, the Quays worked as professional illustrators. The first edition of Anthony Burgess' novel The Clockwork Testament, or Enderby's End, feature their drawings before the start of each chapter. Nearly three decades before directly collaborating with Stockhausen, they designed the cover of the book Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer (ed. Jonathan Cott, Simon & Schuster, 1973). After designing book covers for Gothic and science fiction book cover commissions they did while in Philadelphia, the Quays have created suggestive designs for a variety of publications that seem to reflect not only their own interests in particular authors, covers for Italo Calvino, Louis-Ferdinand Céline or Mark le Fanu's study of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, but also in themes and motifs that these authors develop. Literary texts are inspirational sources for almost all of their film projects, whether they serve as a point of departure for their own ideas or as a textual basis for filmic scenarios, and not as scripts or screenplays. The prowess in illustration and calligraphy seeps increasingly into many formal elements in their later films, evident as graphic embellishment in the set decoration, or their particular use of patterns in the puppets' costume design. Titles, intertitles and credits appear in a variety of handwritten styles.

In an interview with [5]

The critical success of Street of Crocodiles gave the Quay Brothers 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. The Quays are best known for their puppet and feature-length films. Less known, but no less incisive in their creative development is their intense engagement in stage design for opera, ballet and theatre: since 1988, the Quays have created sets and projections for performing arts productions on international stages. Their work at miniature scale has translated into large-scale decors for the theatre and opera productions of director Feydeau's "A Flea in Her Ear"; Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa; and Molière's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme". Their set design for a revival of Ionesco's "The Chairs" was nominated for a Tony Award in 1998. The Quays' excursion into feature films and live-action dance films are by no means an indication of a move away from animation and the literature that inspires them—on the contrary, this next film explores the potential which slumbers in the combination of these cinematic techniques. Their puppet animation set designs have been curated as an internationally touring exhibition called "Dormitorium" which toured the east coast of the United States in 2009, including the originating venue of the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, followed by Parsons The New School of Design, New York,[6] Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA and Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

The Quay Brothers are regular guests at film festivals, art colleges and universities, most recently at The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[7]

In 2010 The College of Physicians of Philadelphia received a Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative grant through The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for an exhibitions project that would include a new work by the Quay Brothers. As the new work the Quays produced a new film entitled Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum). The film is their first made in the United States, produced by Edward Waisnis through his company PRO BONO films in collaboration with Atelier Koninck QBFZ, London and it focuses on the history and collections of the College's famed Mütter Museum. The film, which features narration by Derek Jacobi and a musical score by Timothy Nelson, was shot on location in Philadelphia during the Summer of 2010 and was premiered in Autumn 2011, with symposia, at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; New York City's Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The film was subsequently shown at the Wellcome Collection, London, England; the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, Canada; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and at the Wexner Center of the Arts at Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. It was reviewed in both Sight & Sound and Film Comment magazines. The 35mm negative and print were selected for inclusion in the film collection of the Museum of Modern Art. This is the first film that the Quay Brothers have made in the United States.

A retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2012–Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets–featured work spanning their entire career, tracing back as early as childhood, with much of the material shown for the first time. Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator of MoMA's Film Department, the exhibition ran from August 12, 2012 through January 7, 2013 and included a full coinciding film program.[8][9]

The Quay Brothers were commissioned by Leeds Canvas, a group of eight cultural organisations in Leeds, UK, to create in May 2012 a major city-wide art installation, OverWorlds & UnderWorlds. The commission was one of twelve Artists Taking the Lead projects around the UK, Arts Council England's flagship contribution to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

The Quays are 2013 recipients of a residency program award at the Wexner Center of the Arts, Columbus, Ohio. The project they undertook coinciding with this residency is a puppet animation film entitled: Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H.–that revolves around the work and life of Uruguyan writer Felisberto Hernández, often referred to as the father of ‘magic realism’, and for whose work the Quays share an affinity. The production was overseen by Edward Waisnis through PRO BONO films, in collaboration with Atelier Koninck QBFZ, and the support of the Fundación Felisberto Hernández, and features a score composed by Timothy Nelson, who has worked with the Quays previously.

Two exhibitions, featuring work by the Quays, are currently scheduled for museums in Europe. The first will be at the Eye Film Institute, Amsterdam opening at the end of 2013, followed by an exhibition at the Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona in 2014.

As of January 2014, the brothers are in production alongside The Digital Toy Company on a joint film/video-game project expected to be released in 2015, entitled Asleep: I Hear My Name.[10]


Feature films

Short films



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Elder, Robert K. The Best Film You've Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review, 2013. Print.
  6. ^ Dormitorium Exhibition. Newschool University. Parsons School of Design. Retrieved July 7, 2010
  7. ^ Quay Brothers faculty profile at European Graduate School. Retrieved July 7, 2010
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Review of Edinburgh Film Festival showing
  12. ^
  13. ^

Further reading

Journal articles on the Quay Brothers

  • Buchan, Suzanne, "Liberation of the Mistake: A Glimpse into the Quay Brothers" Research Process', in: Proof, Vol 3 No 1 (2008): 16-20
  • Costatini, Gustavo. "De Artificali Perspectiva: The Brothers Quay's Use of Sound and Music." Filmwaves Magazine, Issue 32 (2007): 43-47
  • Buchan, Suzanne H. 'Choreographed Chiaroscuro, Enigmatic and Sublime.' Film Quarterly, Spring (1998): 2–15.
  • Nichols Goodeve, Thyrza. "Dream Team: Thyrza Nichols Goodeve Talks with the Brothers Quay." Artforum, April (1996)
  • Hammond, Paul. "In Mystery, Shrouded: On the Quays' New Film." Vertigo Magazine, Vol. 1 No.5 (1995): 18-20
  • Atkinson, Michael. "The night countries of the Brothers Quay." Film Comment, September/October (1994): 36-44
  • Atkinson, Michael. "Unsilent night: The Brothers Quay." Film Comment, Vol. 30 No. 5, September/October (1995): 25-38
  • Romney, Jonathan. "The Same Dark Drift." Sight and Sound, Vol. 1, No. 11 (1992): 24-27
  • Romney, Jonathan. "Brothers in Armature." City Limits. No. 446 (1990): 16-17
  • Atkinson, Michael. "Stirrings in the Dust." Afterimage, No. 13 (1987): 4-9
  • Wadley, Nick. "Masks, Music, and Dances of Dream". PIX, no. 2, January 1997, 126-134; + Interview with Brothers Quay, 135-143
  • Hammond, Paul. "In Quay Animation." Afterimage 13, Autumn 1987: 54-67

Academic essays on the Quay Brothers

  • Buchan, Suzanne. "The Animated Spectator: Watching the Quay Brothers' 'Worlds'". In Suzanne Buchan (Ed) Animated Worlds, pp 15–38. Eastleigh: John Libbey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-86196-661-9
  • De Rosa, Agostino. "Dove lo sguardo esita" (Where the gaze hesitates). In Agostino De Rosa, Giuseppe D'Acunto (Ed), La Vertigine dello Sguardo. Tre saggi sulla rappresentazione anamorfica (The Vertigo of Sight. Three Essays on the Anamorphic Representation), pp 184–201. Venezia: Cafoscarina Publishing, 2002. ISBN 9788888613314
  • Weiner, Steve. "The Quay Brothers' The Epic of Gilgamesh and the 'Metaphysics of Obscenity'" in J. Pilling (Ed.), A Reader in Animation Studies London, John Libbey & Company, 1997.

Books on the Quay Brothers

  • Mikurda, Kuba and Prodeus, Adriana (Eds). Trzynasty miesiąc. Kino Braci Quay. Cracow-Warsaw: Korporacja Ha!art & IFF Era New Horizons, 2010. ISBN 978-83-61407-62-1. (in Polish)
  • Buchan, Suzanne. The Quay Brothers. Into a Metaphysical Playroom. University of Minnesota Press, 2010. ISBN 0-8166-4659-7
  • Buchan, Suzanne, et al. The Quay Brothers' Universum. nai010, EYE, 2013. ISBN 978-94-6208-127-7
  • Pilling, Jayne and Fabrizio Liberti (Eds). Stephen e Timothy Quay. Bergamo: Stamperia Stefanoni, 1999.


  • Costa, Jordi. (Ed) "Quay Brothers". Sitges: Sitges Festival Internacionale de Cinema de Cataluna, 2001.
  • Dormitorium: An Exhibition of Film Décors. Philadelphia, PA: The University of the Arts, 2009.
  • Magliozzi, Ronald S. and Edwin Carels. Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. NY: The Museum of Modern Art, [2012]. ISBN 9780870708435.


  • Brooke, Michael (Ed), Quay Brothers—The Short Films 1979–2003. London: BFI, 2006. EAN 5035673006535
  • The Brothers Quay Collection: Ten Astonishing Short Films 1984–1993. DVD Region 1 / NTSC. Kino Video. Release date 2000. 120 minutes. ASIN 6305957681
  • Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995) DVD Region 1 / NTSC. Kino. Release date 2000. B/w, 104 minutes. ASIN B007VQG1MM
  • Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995) VHS PAL. ICA Projects Ltd. Release date 1996. B/w, 104 min.
  • The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes (2005) Zeitgeist Films. Region 1 /NTSC. Release date 2007. Colour and b/w, 99 minutes.
  • The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes (2005). DVD Region 2 / PAL. Artificial Eye. release date 2006. Colour and b/w, 99 minutes.
  • L'Accordeur de tremblements de terre DVD Region 2 / PAL. E.D. distribution. Release date 2007. Colour and b/w, 99 minutes.
  • 'Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum) DVD Region 1 / NTSC. Release date 2011. Colour and b/w, 31 min.

External links

  • Quay Brothers profile at European Graduate School, biography, bibliography and video lectures
  • Senses of Cinema. Great Directors Critical Database
  • Senses of Cinema. Through a Glass Darkly Interview with the Quay Brothers
  • Timothy Quay at the Internet Movie Database
  • Stephen Quay at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Short Films of The Quay Brothers at Zeitgeist Films
  • Videos by Brothers Quay
  • PRO BONO films [1]
  • From Lutosławski to Silence Interview with the Quay Brothers
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