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My Dinner with The Brothers Quay

During their recent trip to the U.S., Taylor Jessen sat down with Stephen and Timothy Quay, whose work has influenced nearly every stop-motion animator, to uncover the secrets of the brothers surreal sensations.

Timothy and Stephen Quay (r-l in b&w photo, reverse in color). All images unless otherwise noted courtesy of Zeitgeist Films. Right images courtesy of Sarah Baisley.

If you really intend to understand the Brothers Quay from the ground up, get ready to Netflix a lot of European movies from the silent era and everything you can get your hands on by Borowczyk. And this fall you definitely gotta snap up the three-DVD Jan Svankmajer collection. Youd better check out Kafkas diaries too. Oh, and Un chien andalou. Of course you can skip directly to the Quays filmography if you like and if you havent yet, youve missed getting a firsthand look at one of animations most important stylistic touchstones of the last 25 years, and an inspirational ingredient in 99% of todays stop-motion animators mental bag of tricks. Because the good news is that, unlike most makers of animated short films, twins Stephen and Timothy Quay have been lucky enough to have their work anthologized on DVD (thanks to the globe-hopping and vault-spelunking stalwarts at Kino Video).

The Brothers Quay, who will turn 60 next year, have been name-checked by just about every stop-motion animator coming up in the last 20 years as a primary influence. These charming and effusive twin moptops from Philadelphia, now Europe-based, who have given the world such surrealistic wonders as Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, The Comb and Street of Crocodiles, work in a milieu that eschews dialogue and narrative and aims directly for the exquisitely rendered question mark.

Animation World Magazine caught up with the Quays at an outdoor restaurant in Hollywood just prior to their first-ever U.S. appearance supporting of a program of their films, in the form of the 10th Marc Davis Lecture at AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on April 21, 2006. AWN publisher Ron Diamond and Academy lecture coordinator Randy Haberkamp also joined the roundtable with the Quays in a discussion that touched on various aspects of their career, including their reasons for working overseas, the films that have most electrified them and the necessary and not-so-evil evil of making television ads. (At their request the Quays have been attributed collectively throughout the text, except at one point where the brothers go off into their own illuminating interrogatory sidebar.)

Taylor Jessen: How did you guys end up at Royal College of Art? What made you want to go?

Quays: There was a visiting professor from the Royal College of Art who taught the final year at the Philadelphia College of Art. He said, What are you guys doing after this? And we said, Nothing. He said, Why dont you apply to the Royal College of Art? Simple as that. And we said okay.

TJ: What was nice about London that made you want to stay?

Q: It was on the edge of Europe. It was like an outpost of Europe. We were fascinated by Europe, and I think we just wanted to have a chance to be there. And also just to continue going to art school.

TJ: Whats your European heritage, personally?

Q: Both sides Anglo-Saxon, completely.

TJ: What does Quay mean?

Q: Its Manx." So were tail-less. The Manx cat is tail-less for some reason.

TJ: When did you go over?

Q: Late 60s. Just around the time of Vietnam.

TJ: Were you more inspired by painters growing up?

Q: I think more by photography. Probably at that time it was Josef Sudek, a Czech photographer. We had a book by Plicka on Prague. We had discovered Kafkas diaries. And we wanted to investigate so, whats Prague? What does it mean? We found this beautiful book of black and white photographs of just Prague as a city, and it was very graphic, very powerful. A mixture between the baroque, between the alchemical alleys beneath the castle which is where Jan Svankmajer lives now, has always lived, lives in the shadow of the castle.

"Stop being wimps. Animate!" The homunculus from Faust, Jan Svankmajer's extraordinary 1994 feature, seems to goad the viewer into action as Svankmajer once goaded the Quays.

TJ: Were you guys turned on by live-action filmmakers? When did you get the animation bug?

Q: We were always more influenced by live action. Animation came much later, the distillation of animation. In Philadelphia, our teacher David Grossman at the college was hired because he had his own private film collection. So he gave this course in which he projected his own collection. He had Fellini, Dreyer, Bergman, lots of amazing English cinema and a lot of classic American cinema. All in 16 mm. We would go to his class once or twice a week, and then there was a cinema outside of Philadelphia called the Bandbox, which exclusively showed foreign cinema. A very eccentric man who scheduled a beautiful range of cinema. French new wave, and particularly the Czech new wave cinema from the 60s.

TJ: How much of this did you first get exposed to in college as opposed to in your teens?

Q: It was only in college that it clicked, that we actually saw the stuff. Otherwise we were totally uninformed.

TJ: Did Mom and Dad ever take you to

Q: No. We saw Disney films, things like that. But from the day we arrived in Philadelphia, went into the arts school, then it all started to come together. We were in a big city. We were born in a little village outside of it, Morristown. We drew all the time. Grossman in the film college showed a lot of early cinema, the silent period, which was highly visual. No dialogue. I think we gravitated instantly towards that. Because it was just the language of speaking with images rather than dialogue.

TJ: Did he expose you primarily to American silent directors or European?

Q: Everything. D.W. Griffith, The Phantom Carriage, the early Scandinavian cinema, Russian cinema. [The Cabinet of] Caligari. He had a lot of the German expressionist cinema. And Buñuel, Un chien andalou. It was a visual poem, the first one. Everything was told in images and music. That was the biggest thing that ever hit us, Un chien andalou. The authority on Buñuel in England was Raymond Durgnat. He was teaching at the Royal College, so we would attend his classes illegally. Wed slip in.

TJ: What was your first foray into animation?

Q: It was after we went back to the States for seven years, and then came back to London, ostensibly to go to Holland. Our producer well, at the time he wasnt our producer, he was a colleague he said, Why dont you do something experimental? Suggest something experimental. Propose something. So we said, Well do a puppet film. He said, Well, write it down, give it to me, and then fucking go off and wash the dishes in Holland. Which is what we did. And then six months later he said, Youve got the money. Come back. But before that, we had done some cutout animation in Philadelphia. It was very amateurish. We shot a lot of 8mm material, where we were shooting live action and some animation. It was because our father had an 8mm camera, and we just poached it.

TJ: Does any of this stuff survive?

Q: No Yeah, it does, actually, somewhere, but its unavoidably lost. (laughs) Its ridiculous. Its pathetic. The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, thats where we start saying that it all started coming together. It was like he released us, when we did the documentary on him. He said, Stop being wimps. Animate.

TJ: So you are the small child at the end leaving and waving goodbye.

Q: Yes, absolutely. Its the master to the acolyte.

TJ: He opens your skulls and pulls out the cotton

Q: Yes the debris of uselessness. (laughs)

TJ: But that was really nice dodecahedral globe that he pulled out! No shame in having that rolling around your head.

Q: (laughs) No!

TJ: That wasnt good enough for you, Jan, you had to go and put in little spheres and stuff So thats obviously where the recurring spheres come from, from Jan.

Q: The thing is, wed been first impressed by Borowczyk and Lenica, but wed never been able to meet them. But we did have a chance to meet Svankmajer. And I guess seeing that body of work was very impressive. And especially to see it in the confines of two days. The entire oeuvre But anyway, it was an homage to a maestro. The original documentary that we did for Channel Four was 54 minutes, of which the clip is embedded in the middle of it.

A shot from The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer.

TJ: I understand so the rest of it is live action.

Q: Its a long documentary French surrealism existed, but what nobody knows about is that Czech surrealism existed in parallel at the same time, and when French surrealism died out before the second world war, Czech surrealism continued to function right through the Communist times. They met every Thursday afternoon. Svankmajer hes a militant surrealist, and there was a whole community of surrealists that met illegally. And thats something for us that said, There you go. And in the west, with all its liberalness, surrealism dies out because its just a phase.

TJ: We never had to fight for it.

Q: Exactly. In Czechoslovakia, it was part of the revolt, in the Communist times. It was a subversive movement.

TJ: So The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer on the Kino DVD, thats a 15-minute cutdown of a 54-minute documentary whats the documentary like?

Q: Its interviews with authorities in England who know a lot about surrealism. Theres Don Addis, whos a great authority on Czech surrealism. Roger Cardinal, Paul Hammond. They all knew French surrealism, and they just discussed different aspects of it. And we presented clips where a voice-over spoke lines of Jan Svankmajer, where he talks about his own work, and certain scenes from his films. So it was a very nice, long thing. Theyre going to bring out a DVD BFI is bringing out a triple DVD of Svankmajer, which the full documentary will be on as an extra. Its coming out in the fall.

We met Svankmajer in 1983. He was a very closed man. Reticent beyond belief, first of all because of the language barrier. And my reading of it is that, as a militant surrealist in Czechoslovakia, he didnt need the west at all. He was very suspicious when the two of us arrived there. It was like, Who needs you guys? Maybe he was just I cant believe it why would people from the east even be interested?

TJ: How did you physically meet him? I mean, in 1983 Czechoslovakia was Soviet bloc.

Q: We approached the Czech embassy, and right away they said, Oh, we have much more interesting animators that you might be interested in. And I said, Oh, no, its just Svankmajer. So we went to visit him. And he was just bemused, like, Who are these people? I dont think it was until he saw the finished product that he felt that he didnt know English, so he would have had to take somebodys word for it that it was reasonably well done But what was interesting about it was that it actually opened him up to the west. And at that point I think he realized that we did him a service. He had such a rough ride in Czechoslovakia, with a lot of his films being suppressed. Sometimes he didnt work for years. He was very philosophical, like, Who needs them? What can they do for me? I dont have to make films. Ill make collages.

TJ: When you first went to London, whose work were you seeing locally?

Q: When we were at the Royal College of Art between 69 and 72 we saw Borowczyks Goto, Island of Love, and then we saw all his shorts. That was galvanizing. That was the thing that really hit us. I think we felt that thats where it could all begin for us. Even Svankmajer, when we talked to him in Rotterdam last year, he talked about Borowczyk. We also had looked at Starewicz, Alexeev and Lenica.

TJ: But you werent animating yet?

Q: We just werent ready to do animation films. We were still doing our graphic work.

TJ: What did you do professionally in that period?

Q: We were doing illustration. We went back to America for five years, 1972 to 1978. Tried to make a go of it in New York doing book covers. It was a disaster. We ended up being waiters, washing dishes. We were fed up with it, and we left to go to Europe in 78. Thats when we first made an application to the British Film Institute with Keith Griffiths to do a puppet film. We left to go to Holland, went there for a while, and then Keith said Youve got the grant, and we came back, and then we made our very first puppet film.

The work of the early stop-motion masters can be seen in their work as in their films, Street of Crocodiles and Anamorphorsis.

TJ: Thats Nocturna Artificialia in 1979?

Q: Yes. Its an extra on the Kino DVD.

TJ: Have your shorts had any life on TV, besides the very short ones for MTV?

Q: The first time Street of Crocodiles was shows was on Live from Off Center. Laurie Anderson introduced it. Keith arranged that. It was very good.

Ron Diamond: How do you feel about your films being seen on video versus theatrical, on a big screen?

Q: Well when you see the puppets on TV, theyre exactly the scale that we made them. Its not that it defeats it, but when you see them on 35, blown on a big screen, then you liberate them as objects. Even the iron filings [in Stille Nacht I] take on a different scale. Its good like that. I think thats a release of the material. But unfortunately we all have to just accept the fact that were going to end up watching them on a small screen, unless our private TVs in our homes get to be 65 inches.

TJ: I want to ask you about the drawers-within-drawers themes in your work. Im someone who has the secret-room dream a lot, where I dream Im at home and there are secret rooms hidden in the spaces behind the walls. Were you obsessing on anything similar in the early days?

Q: I think drawers beyond drawers expresses the multiplicity of potentials, that the drawers shouldnt be the drawers in front of you, but that when you pull that drawer out, theres side drawers, and it goes on and on. Pursue something even further. The perpetuation of potentialities. But you have to realize in the sequence from the Svankmajer film called The Pursuit of the Object, in the end, when the child divines where the object is, he points to a drawer, taps on it eventually drawer upon drawer opens up, and then you see the paw of Svankmajer go in and touch some stones. At that point we then cut to one of Jans films, which was a film called Game with Stones. So it was a lead-in to one of his vignettes. Every chapter [in Cabinet] led up to a scene that would take you into him talking about himself, or showing an extract from his film.

TJ: The first short of yours that I saw was actually Anamorphosis, and I saw it in front of The Hunger. It was an outdoor screening at Boise State University and they projected it on the side of a building.

Q: (laughs) Who was the scheduler? Who programmed that one?

TJ: It was a great evening out, actually! Was Anamorphosis a subject that you had been obsessing on for a long time?

Q: The Getty people approached us proposing a package. The brief was, it had to be pre-19th century. And we said, What about Anamorphosis? It was something that wed been reading about. And they said, We like it. Go. But they attached an intellectual to the project, which was Ernst Gombrich. Hes one of the big Perspective authorities of all time. But for him, Anamorphosis was one of the minor chapters in the history, which was not even worth talking about. I think he gives it a paragraph in his book. But the Getty Foundation felt that it was very important that he should okay the production, what the concepts were. The guy we really would have wanted was a Lithuanian expert who wrote an amazing book on Anamorphosis that we knew, and when we wrote to him to see if he could participate in the film, his wife wrote back saying My husband just died one week ago, and he would have loved to have been a part of the project. It didnt matter in the end, all Gombrich had to do basically was to say to the Getty Foundation Its okay. Theyre okay, the boys.

TJ: Talk about the shorts youve done since the last one on the Kino DVD, Stille Nacht IV.

Q: Theres something we did for the Tate Gallery, Songs for Dead Children, which we cant release because we cant clear the music rights. Its like £6000. They cant put it on the DVD. But weve done two dance films one was about 18 minutes, the other was about 45. We did direction, sets, and the decors. The big ones based on Hoffmans The Sandman, with music by György Kurtág and Leos Janácek. The other one was to Arvo Pärts Duet. We worked with a very nice choreographer that we like very much. And then we did In Absentia and The Phantom Museum.

TJ: What do you do professionally now?

Q: Were unemployed. We hang around festivals. (laughs) No, no its not as simple as that. Last year we worked on a private film. But its just a few sequences, and its sort of a pilot.

05 The Brothers Quay’s latest feature, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, will have limited art house release in the U.S. this fall.

TJ: Has your second feature The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes made it to video?

Q: Its actually coming out here for a limited theatrical run. Maybe 14 days. (laughs)

RD: Is Keith Griffiths involved in any aspect of the day-to-day operation of the production? Youre managing your finances; youve got your own bank account

Q: We have two companies. We have Koninck, which is three of us together, which we did the feature film on, or any of the fiction films on. And then we have our own private company, which is Koninck QBFZ, Quay Brothers, which we tend to do our more private work, whether its commercials or theatre or opera or ballet or whatever it might be, which Keith is not in any way involved in like that. For the new work in progress, its something that we entirely funded ourselves at this stage.

RD: Do your commercials hit American TV at all?

Q: All the time, a lot. The majority of them are made for the agency that we work with here, Believe Media. We also have an English agent where we do certain things in England, but ever since 9/11 the bottoms collapsed out of the commercial market for us. We havent done anything in four years here.

TJ: Who are some of your clients?

Q: Monsanto, Nikon, Murphys Stout. We did an AIDS commercial.

RD: Did a Coke commercial.

TJ: Do you ever get those works back? Would the DVD rights be too tough to navigate?

Q: Never thought of about it for one second.

TJ: Is it because of the content of the work?

Q: No foresight. (laughs)

TJ: Its bizarre, because those commercials inevitably have the biggest budgets of anything out there.

Q: I know, its extraordinary! The budgets that we were given, and to think we could have made three or four short films. They dont bat an eye.

RD: What kind of budgets are your shorts films made on?

Q: Thirty thousand. Crocodiles was the biggest budget we ever had in our life no, the Stockhausen [In Absentia] was £100,000. The music was already cleared, the BBC paid that. So we had £100,000 just to do that film by itself. And Crocodiles before that was around, I think, £75,000, which was a lot at that time. After that everything was about £20,000 £40,000.

TJ: What was the original venue for Crocodiles?

Q: Camden Plaza. It showed with a Parajanov film, Suram Fortress, which was, like, 78 minutes.

RD: And the MTV stuff? Do you have rights to be able to use that?

Q: Keith has managed theyre fine about it. They just let us do what we want with [Stille Nacht I]. 4AD, the same thing. Theyre very happy to let us just run with it [Are We Still Married and Stille Nacht IV]. The same with the two dance films. When the BFI brings out the new package, hopefully its going to have Institute Benjamenta on it, plus the two dance films as extras on the Benjamenta side. Its good for them to get it out otherwise it just sits in the archive.

TJ: How do you feel about doing commercials?

Q: Its purely a pact with the devil. You say one commercial a year will pay for the studio. For instance, we did a commercial in the year that we did Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies. Channel Four gave us £20,000, so the commercial paid for the studio, but yet allowed us with that little bit of money to work for a year and a half on Rehearsals. So in that sense, its just practical. You just bite the bullet. And also, its not like youre saying Oh, Jesus, its terrible, we have to work on this commercial. Actually the commercials were very interesting subjects that we like the Dulux Wood commercial was all about preservation of wood. Well, we like working with wood!

In Absentia is a film that The Brothers Quay made for themselves first and hope it connects with an audience as well.

TJ: Thats something you can get behind.

Q: And it was fun, in a way. And they totally backed us up all the way down the line. Even in England, almost 100% of the independent studios, they could not exist without doing commercials. Aardman always did them beautifully. It was always a parallel universe. We had to do them it was just a practicality. It was, like, dont be fussy, dont be prima donnas. We could say no to them, we wouldnt whore after them, but if it was a good one wed go for it and say Thats good, we like that one, because its something we could explore theyre open to us, proposing things, and we like the people.

RD: I think its evident that your first audience for your films is yourself. But as filmmakers who are conveying ideas to audiences, what is your biggest concern about reaching your audience? What do you feel is your most important concept to get across to them? Is there one?

Stephen Quay: I think its very hard to imagine that there is an audience. It exists, but its unquantifiable. As you animate, you cant satisfy that condition. If were trying to push through something, whatever film it may be, like In Absentia, you cannot think about audience. You think about absolving Stockhausen and those conditions. But not an audience.

Timothy Quay: And the woman that youre trying to tell the story about.

Stephen Quay: Yeah, but its not an audience!

Timothy Quay: No, its not that. Im saying what youre trying to do, ultimately, is to tell the story about the woman the exhibition piece that we first saw. Youre trying to chart her journey and tell it in a way thats in relationship to the score that Stockhausen wrote, that he didnt know we were going to choose. After we heard the music, we thought what kind of story can you tell with this kind of music? Its not something a priori. You could just say, Oh, well, weve always had this story in mind about this. Then you go, Whoa hang on, it doesnt work with Stockhausen. Thats ferocious music. Then we say, What kind of barometric pressure are you going for to tell a story like that? We remembered the exhibit that wed seen at the Hayward Gallery on the Prinzhorn collection. Theres two parallel realms, and one acquits the other. I think thats the unique thing that we went for.

For us, the ultimate acquittal was when we presented it to the Barbican. It was a massive audience. They all went with it. They simply bought the story that we had told. Thats very demanding, to tell that kind of a story, which is quite remote, on schizophrenia, and a womans private obsession, with that kind of music. But I dont think theres any way we could have sat down and said, How do you make that accessible? Theres no prescription to say, Make something accessible. Its a gut response. Either you buy it or you dont. But you cant mollycoddle madness, and say Lets make it really accessible. With us, it was just a gut reaction one equaled the other, and go with it, and try to score that realm, and tell it in a language that was highly visual. Because for us, it wasnt really music, it was sound. It was just a powerful soundtrack.

Randy Haberkamp: Why did you choose to put the title card about the woman at the end as opposed to the beginning?

Q: Because I thought you had to earn it. You had to submit to the madness, the ordeal, as she did. That was a calculated thing. And also because in a sense, you werent sure whether it was fiction or where you were going, and then at the end, it almost became Oh, this is a documentary. In a strange, hybrid way, it told a documentary about a womans schizophrenia, or a case history. Case history 176 in 1928. And I dont think we know any other way than just to go for the deep end, to carve out something. If we dont push, then I dont think wed know how to play really safe. Except for commercials, where we always felt like, Oh, weve got to be really accessible. But in a way, I dont think we tried to play safe with the commercials.

RH: Are there objects that recur in your work? Do you see them as having any kind of specific symbolism, or does it change according to the work?

Q: Id like to think that when we do a film about Gilgamesh, that were telling a story. Were telling it from a certain angle. But its like if you go to an opera, you go to hear Bergs Woyzeck, maybe you know the original text by Buchner, and youve seen it as a theatre piece. But when you go to hear it rendered as music against text you say to Berg, Why did you make it so difficult? He sought a language to tell that story. And I know for us its one of the seminal works of the 20th century, Bergs Woyzeck. And I mean, yeah, maybe were guilty of coming in at a very high tone, and I think that if we see what Berg has done with something, or the way Stockhausen works, you want to meet them head-on. You think that were being difficult?

RH: Not necessarily.

The Brothers Quay chat with fellow stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Courtesy of Sarah Baisley.

TJ: In This Unnameable Little Broom youre basing the work on Gilgamesh, which is a known story. So it is like opera. If you go to Don Giovanni and you dont speak Italian youre going to get more out of it if you already know the story. Whereas in The Comb, where youre cutting between two worlds, one with a woman asleep and another with disembodied hands pushing ladders around, thats not a narrative you come into knowing how its going to end.

Q: No, I agree.

TJ: And I do notice at least one recurring image in many of your shorts, which is the bouncing ball.

Q: I think youre always trying to pick it up, make it to be acquitted well enough. Can I do it better? The bouncing ball was in Rehearsals and Svankmajer.

TJ: So was it just a technique thing?

Q: Just thought you could do it better. Yeah, clearly theres recurrent themes like that, its true.

TJ: I dont want to put you on the spot

Q: No, no, no.

TJ: I dont want you to explain stuff. I dont think tidy explanations are what your shorts are about.

Q: In a sense its a little bit like when you accept the language of poetry, you realize that youre dealing with meter, rhyme, rhythm, and youre using a very coded language. When you read poetry you accept that its a little bit more difficult than prose, because youre speaking in a much more clipped, more condensed language. And I think that, with the short film, which doesnt necessarily deal with the prose language well, in our reading of it you use a much more condensed language. Thats a side that we feel more at home with.

TJ: So while, for instance, Aardman is very good at telling straight dramatic narratives, you resist that sort of approach.

Q: Its not an accusatory finger, its just that Aardman does beautifully what they do, when they do the Creature Comforts or when they do the conversation pieces, that they build that around the very pragmatic and highly conceived way that they work. But we dont work in that fashion. We feel much more at home with images, and we like to push that side. I know personally, when we watch other peoples films, we like being challenged by how you read a short film, which doesnt just lay it on the platter, but leaves it quite enigmatic and open, whether its Kucia's work Kucia especially. Hes wonderful like that. You look at a film like Chips, or Fragments absolutely stunning little film. And the same with Norshteyn. No dialogue. Oh, yes, there is a little bit now and then. But very little. No mouth sync. Its like inner voiceover.

TJ: So many animators now are making short films to make short stories, and thats never been your prerogative.

Q: No. I think its like when we first came across Kafkas diaries. I think what most impressed us was the completeness of the incompleteness of the fragment. Hed start to write a story, and hed give up. Or hed just write a simple anecdote which was very powerful in its fragmentary quality. But there was a power to it that we were deeply drawn to. Id give anything for those fragments without having to know the beginning or the end. I know it doesnt make satisfactory Or, look at Alexeevs work. Theres never any voiceover or anything. Theyre just purely fragments of images that flow one upon the other. As he said, I work within a narrow band between the conscious and the unconscious. Its all about illusions, illusiveness, a musical sensibility. He set everything to music. And yet I never feel unsatisfied when I watch one of his films.

I think what we base our films on are not dramaturgical laws but musical laws. You never question music. You dont say to music, What does it mean? In the Prinzhorn Collection theres the famous Swiss madman called Adolph Wolfli, who did these amazing, massive drawings. And Morgenthaler, who ran the psychiatric asylum, wrote about him, and he said at one point he approached Wolfli and said, Adolph, what does this mean? He pointed to one of the drawings and Wolfli just rolled up a piece of paper, and used it as a trumpet, and trumpeted the answer. And its true, because it defies verbalizing in any concrete way. I think its very hard to say What does it mean? Emotionally, you run a gamut of a powerful range of what youve sensed about something. And yet you never say, Well, I understood that! Its useless to say that. You cant.

Timothy and Stephen Quay enjoy a glass of wine before their retrospective at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Courtesy of Sarah Baisley.

RD: Do you think theres a need for more of that in the world today?

Q: I dont like the gun at the head, whether its on us or at other people who are just saying, What does it mean? when I think its a shallow question, when somebody isnt willing themselves to try to access what the artist is trying to do whether its the filmmaker, or the musician, or the guy who makes pottery, or the poet. Its dense language, but it doesnt have any meaning. I think people use a certain way of writing writing in a larger sense, whether its music or film where you write by leaving gaps that have to be filled in. And either people say, Im moving through the space, or it blocks them out. I know too many people who will just feel cut off because theyll say, I dont like this one. I dont like Kovalyovs work. It doesnt say anything to me. Its just fragments. And other people, like us, he cant make enough films like that.

TJ: How do animated shorts get seen in Europe now that Channel Four is not as big a supporter as it used to be? Is it on TV, or do people have to go to festivals?

Q: Now that the films get out on DVD, its like samizdat. It just gets passed around. Its a private network everybody knows that you can get it through, because when we traveled to Europe, they all came up with the Kino version, and they want us to autograph it. So they all know that it exists. They all traffic the websites. But if you want to see someone like Kovalyov, good luck! You have to know friends. And if you want to go to other people like Alexeev or Borowczyk or people like Gilnitz, it doesnt exist!

TJ: I got turned on to Kovalyov while watching Bravo network in about 1994, when they were showing lots of shorts. I saw Andrei Svislotsky, unexpectedly.

Q: Thats the best way. To be ambushed.

TJ: I really credit MTV for commissioning all those interstitials in the 1980s because you wouldnt watch MTV to see animation, but there it was anyway. It seems to turn people on to your work its got to be in a medium where people dont expect it.

Q: For us it was just, Oh great, we need a commission. We were unemployed at that time. They gave us carte blanche, and we said, Well go for it. But in terms of the reception, we had no feedback whatsoever, because we personally didnt have MTV, nor did any of our friends or anything. Later things would filter back through. But when we first saw Kovalyov, it was in Annecy. We saw Hen His Wife. It was the first thing we ever saw. The two of us were just knocked out by it. From that point we followed his work intensely.

TJ: His characters gestures are so pregnant with importance.

Q: Yes, its true. Exactly. Unexplainable.

RD: Do you have a website?

Q: Only for the new feature film. Keiths going to work on that, he said.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. Your government is listening, so remember your "who" and "whom" and don't say "ain't."