The first four films of the screening, Stille Nacht I – IV, are music videos, commissioned either by MTV or by rock band His Name Is Alive. While some of them are quite disturbing, such as Can’t Go Wrong Without You (Stille Nacht IV), which describes a rabbit fighting a skull-faced human over the possession of an egg, for the most part they’re simply amusing distractions.
The final film, the 20 minute In Absentia, commissioned by the BBC and set to the music of the late German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, tells the tragic story of a lonely woman repeatedly writing a letter. But the art never resides in the mere story; it is rather in their ability to convey a nightmarish state of mind that the brothers are unique.
Unlike those contemporary directors who use black and white cinematography to explore truly new ground – i.e. Béla Tarr, Jim Jarmusch and perhaps a few others – for the Quay brothers the technique seems mostly to add an element of pastiche; it’s a way to establish a link with a previous era of cinematic history. In these particular films, the mise-en-scène is undoubtedly inspired by German Expressionism and Parisian Surrealism.
The exhibition Inventorium at the Brighton University gallery, showing set design from many of their films, is an excellent companion to the screenings. While these particular films were perhaps a bit disappointing, they’re not really representative of the brother’s work in general, so I highly recommend that you attend the remaining few screenings, which are rare opportunities to see the brothers’ work on the big screen.