Saturday, 4 July 2009

Timothy & Stephen Quay "Street of Crocodiles" (1986)

Since its release in 1986, Street of Crocodiles has intrigued and fascinated film-goers, influencing a whole generation of animators. It is decidedly not an all action movie of thrills and spills. Based on a short story by Polish writer Bruno Schulz and partly improvised, the Quay Brothers set their action, if such it is, in a deserted provincial museum in which the curator, played by Feliks Stawinski, activates a decrepit and ancient peep-show by drooling saliva on the mechanism. The caretaker snips the strings of a puppet man, releasing him to tour the cobweb strewn, labyrinthine factory or ghetto, where in his search he encounters other puppets, dolls with hollowed out skulls, lost in their own world of grime and decay, their universe a long since faded tailors or dress makers factory. Colour is absent for most part though the occasional bright embellishment appears unexpectedly, material pulled from a dusty shelf or a flash of red appearing on the bedraggled puppet's jacket. Nothing is predictable. Unexpected camera angles, loss or addition of focus, silences, bursts of music, bald, china-headed dolls, screws that unravel themselves, strangely unappealing sexual imagery, a puppet's piercing eyes, raw meat à la Jan Svankmajer .. And all the time the puppet creeping furtively, part explorer, part voyeur, part cameraman for the lens switches its view to both track the movements of the protagonist and alight on what he sees. In terms of meaning and interpretation I have read reviews that I scarcely understand, even, as here, by the Brother Quay themselves: "The anonymous offering of human saliva by an attendant caretaker activates and releases the Schulzian theatre from stasis into permanent flux. Myth stalks the streets of this parasitical zone where the mythological ascension of the everyday is charted by a marginal interloper who threads himself through this one night of the Great Season. No centre can be reached and the futile pursuit concludes in the deepest rear rooms of a slightly dubious tailor’s shop.” For its twenty-one minutes one is engrossed in a world of the subconscious, almost as if the figures are backstage in some darkened alternative world forgotten by the main players on stage, performing mechanical, inexplicable tasks. It is world that has no warmth in it, rather shadows, space, futile rituals, and a discordant violin. Born in Philadelphia, USA, but working primarily in the UK, the brothers have a reclusive reputation. Street of Crocodiles remains one of my favourite works of animation, a powerful if enigmatic piece of work (I almost said theatre) to rank with the world's best.

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