Twin Animators

The Fall (Tarsem, 2006)

There’s a scene towards the end of Tarsem’s The Fall, an exhaustingly aestheticised excursus on mythology and storytelling, when one of the lead characters (the incredible Catinca Untaru, giving surely one of the most natural and riveting performances by a child on film) suffers a head injury. The operation she undergoes is represented in stop-motion animation, a fluttering montage of cowled doctors, dolls and opened skulls.

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Immediately, I assumed this was the work of the Brothers Quay, who produced a sequence for Julie Taymor’s Frida, also representing the woozy trauma of major surgery, using puppets to portray the hallucinatory in/out-of-body sensations of heavy sedation, extreme pain and semi-consciousness after Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) is injured in a road accident:

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The sequence from The Fall is credited to Christophe and Wolfgang Lauenstein, twin animators from Germany, and being a suspicious chap prone to the charms of even the tiniest of conspiracy theories, I presumed that this was a pseudonym for the Quays. There couldn’t be two sets of twin brothers working in stop-motion, surely?

Turns out I was wrong. Don’t worry, I’m used to it. There really are two sets of stop-motion twins out there, though closer inspection of the Lauensteins’ back catalogue reveals their work to be considerably cuddlier than the Quays. Their short film Balance won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1989. Accessible allegory abounds:

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Honourable mentions must go to the Chiodo Brothers, sibling puppeteers of the Critters films, Team America and a load of others. See their stop-motion showreel here. Also the Bolex Brothers, makers of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, though they’re not actually brothers at all. I once met the Quay Brothers, and found them to be entirely personable (that’s not a euphemism, and there’s no “but” coming), but (oops!) there is something undeniably fascinating about the closeness of their relationship, the way they communicate with great empathic sensitivity; that’s not exclusive to twins, but it does chime with the image we tend to have of stop-motion animators practising an art that requires preternaturally intense focus and a seemingly occult power to make dead matter come to life. That’s certainly an air that has formed around the Quays, while the resolute gravity of their work has siphoned off any residual sense that there might be some fraternal japery during their sessions around the animating table. The silly superstitions around telepathic twins, confusing close interpersonal bonds with psychic ability, just feed the mystique about the powers of incarnation wielded by animators.

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