Leszek Jankowski’s music is the soul of The Brothers Quay’s Street of Crocodiles

 

In the stop-motion film, Street of Crocodiles, the Quay brothers- Stephen and Timothy Quay- bring to life the Jewish Polish writer Bruno Schulz’s 1933 story, Ulica Krokodyli (Street of Crocodiles). The film’s lack of dialogue, though very much noticed at first, is not at all missed with all the goings-on on the screen; dolls, mannequins, rolling screws. The music composed by Leszek Jankowski, however, is what gives the films eerie, battered, child-like characters breath.

The film starts with the tick-tock of time accompanied by a human whistling that turns into birds whistling. All of that gets drowned out by harps and cellos conveying what is to come. A man in a back room of a lecture hall spits

A man in a back room of a lecture hall spits onto a spool in a box which greases the spool which in turn, lifts a screen door within the box. The man in the lecture hall back room then inserts scissors into the low end of the box and snips the string of the film’s protagonist: well-dressed puppet with wild hair.

The puppet moves around the box world with caution.

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The music is a screeching violin, the kind of sound you hear at a child recital. This violin is accompanied by the repeating rhythm of a cello, like an instructor trying to guide its pupil. The music then turns into a bwaang-bwaang sound, like a child playing a rubber band guitar and then silence. The puppet looks at all the still mannequins behind clear frames. We, like him, are merely observing the images and sounds some of these things make. The silence of the music gives the room to do so and amplifies the bareness of the objects seen.

The puppet looks at all the still mannequins behind clear frames. We, like him, are merely observing the images and sounds some of these things make. The silence gives the room to do so and amplifies the bareness of the objects seen.

Far away from where the puppet stands, alarm bells with birds trills sound off. The puppet moves toward a squeaky pulley and softly touches the string. This action turns off the sounds of alarms. However, the action brings about murmurs.

There are closeups of the puppet’s eyes, the puppets face, quietly contemplating what he may be hearing. Then comes in a tailor with its three apprentices which pull the puppet into their office to prepare him a suite and new head.

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A whimsical tick-tock and xylophone keys are played with deep cello strings singing and squeaky violins voicing their short remarks while the apprentices twirl about the sewing room. They change his clothes and give him a hollow head like theirs but stuff it with white fibers. However, the tailor has a change of heart and decides to give the puppet back his original head. Once the scene ends, a melancholy harp tune is played which then becomes accompanied by a mature violin and cello.

The moments of the surprise and joy and curiosity which heightened during the tailor and dancing apprentice scene is now a mere memory, an experience in which the puppet internalizes and appreciates.

The music, though creepy at times, really exemplifies the growth of the puppet; from novice screechy violins to harmonious cellos, xylophones, and strings, to the minimal sound of melody by single harp tones. The puppet learns to not run foolishly with his curiosity but instead cautiously investigate his surroundings and know when to leave things as they are.

 

“In that city of cheap human material, no instincts can flourish, no dark and unusual passions can be aroused. The street of crocodiles was a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption. The misfortune of that area is that nothing ever success there, nothing can ever reach a definite conclusion. Obviously, we were unable to afford anything better that a cardboard imitation, a photo-montage cut out from last years mouldering newspapers.” – Bruno Schulz, Ulica Krokodyli , 1933

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