Stephen and Timothy Quay rather you drink with them. There are two bottles of prosecco on the conference table as we speak, and if you finish your glass in the middle of talking — deep thoughts about the texture of images and the impulsive nature with which their acclaimed and often disturbing animated films are made — one of them will refill it with a big smile. They’re in New York to discuss the series “The Quay Brothers — on 35mm,” which starts at Film Forum and spreads through nine more cities. They include three of their shorts — including their most famous work, 1986’s haunting and grimy “Street of Crocodiles” — as well as “Quay,” a new, short documentary profile made by one of their biggest fans, hotshot filmmaker Christopher Nolan (who also selected the accompanying shorts).
As eloquent and thoughtful as they are prone to giggles, the Quays also truly seem to share a single mind, regularly jumping into to build sentences, like tennis players in lockstep. As often happens in press profiles of them, we’ve chosen to attribute their responses — often built by both, sometimes word by word — to a single entity.
I’ve been lucky to see a number of your films projected on 35mm. It’s a big deal that others get to see at least three of them in this program.
It’s certainly nice to see how they were originally shot and not digital projections. There’s an authenticity. You’re being true to the original impulse. We’ve accepted that things are going to be projected on DVD. You go to film schools and they don’t even have the proper equipment. They say, “You don’t mind that it’s on DVD?” What can you say? You watch again and again a diminished version of your work.
It’s scary to think there are already those who don’t remember projected film in multiplexes.
The majority of the younger generation doesn’t understand why it should be seen on 35. It doesn’t make sense to them! There’s a whole grammar that’s been lost, a language that’s been lost. Why see it big when I can just see it [points to my phone] this big? Who cares about texture?
And film is a living object. Every time you play it you kill it a little.
It’s gaining a history — a scratch here, there. You can autograph it. [Laughs]
We’re still, even some 15 years in, relatively new to digital, and we still haven’t figured out the textural language of video. You made the switch ages ago.
Texturally it records it perfectly. We have issues because we’re using low light. There’s banding issues. You get all those clusters of pixels collapsing on an image. You can’t chase it away. You have to work at a much higher rate, shooting raw images. But it can be hard to do that with 35, sometimes. You have to light for the dark, whereas with digital available light will register. Which is pretty amazing.