Is this the (Brothers) Quay to Nolan’s whole oeuvre?

4 Stars (4 / 5)


As arguably the foremost director of high-brow cinematic entertainment on the planet, it seems reasonable that Christopher Nolan might want to take a breather between blockbusters.

After the $165 million universe-spanning epic that was Interstellar you can’t get much more palette cleanser-y than an eight-minute behind-the-scenes of the magical junk shop-workshop of a pair of stop-motion animators.

The Brothers Quay (pronounced KWAY), identical twins Stephen and Timothy, may be relatively unknown outside of certain circles, but their influence can be strongly seen in the work of Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and, to a lesser extent, Nolan himself. Using puppets and materials salvaged from where-ever, they have created roughly 30 short films — three of which make up the body of The Quay Brothers in 35mm.


Dark, surreal fairy-tales that often feel like they could be silent films, the first, In Absentia (2000), shows a female mental patient persecuted by fragments of broken pencil lead as she scribbles a letter over and over. A foggy abstract mind-scape, haunted by hysterical laughter (or weeping) and smeared in graphite, the holes of a pencil sharpener loom, cathedral-like. In Comb (1991), a series of ladders penetrate through the different levels of an amber-hued dream reminiscent of the Jude Law sequence from Gilliam’s …Doctor Parnassus.

Their best-known and most ambitious short, though, would seem to be Street of Crocodiles, which follows an undertaker-like figure through a mysterious industrial environment full of arcane exhibitions. Inspired by Bruno Schulz’s mythologized recollections of Drohobycz, Poland, found in a book titled the same, its protagonist bears a certain resemblance to the unwilling groom in Burton’s The Corpse Bride.

The Quay Brothers’ sweeping dream logic lends itself to the somnolent atmosphere of late-night TV, on which Nolan first came across their work. While the 35mm prints certainly lend a texture to the viewing experience, their work may, almost uniquely, be best appreciated while on the verge of nodding off — in a good way. You may leave the cinema feeling sleepy but inexplicably inspired.

Wonderfully obscure, uncompromising and un-commercial, unlike the films inspired by them, The Quay Brothers in 35mm is a singular filmic experience. Pleasant dreams.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs ( Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist ( and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape ( Co-host of the Electric Shadows podcast ( and member of the Online Film Critics Society (

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