Brothers Quay: We started off as illustrators, drawers, and it was because we became frustrated by the stillness of that image, the lack of sound, of depth, of music, we figured there had to be another way to go. We managed in school todo some 2D, cut-out animation shorts, but we were frustrated by that as well--we wanted the third dimension.
RD: Had you begun to experiment with animation before you arrived in London?
BQ: No, we came to animation at about the age of thirty-two. At least puppet animation, the kind of work we've become known for.
RD: What draws you to the literary sources which serve as inspiration for yourfilms? They all seem to be drawn from the eastern European/Germanic vein, such as Ödon von Horvärth, from whom the title TALES FROM THE VIENNA WOODS is borrowed, or Bruno Schultz, whose writings were your starting point for STREET OF CROCODILES, and of course Robert Walser, whose novel JAKOB VON GUNTEN inspired your lates film, INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA.
BQ: For one the whole universe of the puppet is aneastern European artform, one which really doesn't exist in America, and once we became aware of the region in which European puppetry was developed and refined, we were attracted to the literature which surrounded it. This process led us of course to central European literature and music, although that's not to say it's our only obsession. But the real turning point for us was coming across thediaries of Franz Kafka, because what he left out of the stories, we found in his diary: these half-fragments, things that were unbelievably evocative, so that Kafka really led us in to central Europe. And of course Kafka adored Walser's writing.
RD: Your films are also reminiscent of early German silent cinema. Is it safe to assume that German Expressionist and Weimar film has had a big influenceon your style?
BQ: I know why people are prone to say that, because our animation draws heavily on a very sophisticated visual language--a certain quality of lighting and decor, of stylized movement--which has a lot to do with Expressionism. But at the same time one could talk Keaton, or early Swedish or Danish cinema, all of which are crucial for us. The essential influence is that of a visualaesthetic which doesn't rely upon dialogue.
RD: This aesthetic seems to me to be a sort of "stylized Germania", for lack of a better term, which reminded me immediately of Guy madden's CAREFUL.
BQ: Well Walser's book, which was our foundation, is actually not an expressionist work, it has nothing to do with it, and the relation to CAREFUL is purely fortuitous. We had never seen the film when wegot started shooting, and he had never read the book. Somehow we do share the same iconography, however. We know Guy and have written each other various letters, but he's got a sense of humor compared to us.
RD: You mentioned music as another thing you culled from central Europe. It plays a big role in all of your animation, and BENJAMENTA is no exception. Do you begin working with a scorealready at hand?
BQ: Absolutely. Only once in our life have we had the music done in post-production, for a commercial. We rely on music to propose certain things we would have never foreseen. For us music is the bloodstream and like any choreographer we compose our visual narrative through music--it almost co-writes the scenario. We'd like to achieve a musicalization of space, and would prefer ourwork to follow musical law rather than a dramaturgical one.
RD: You've described your move from stop-motion animation to live action filmmaking as analogous to a composer moving from chamber pieces to a symphony.
BQ: Well it was a giant step for us, but we felt we were quite ready. I mean Christ, we're fourty-eight years old. Bertolucci shot his first feature when he was twenty-one or so, which...