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The Phantom Museum: Random Forays Into the Vaults of Sir Henry Wellcome's Medical

The Quay Brothers
UK 2003 / 11’

Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and supporter of the arts, but above all – a collector. He gathered about one hundred and twenty five thousand objects related to medicine, health and material artefacts (from Napoleon’s toothbrush to mummified skulls from South America), planned as the start of a Museum of Man. The film by the Brothers Quay is, as its title says, a record of random forays into the multi-level cabinet with Wellcome’s curiosities. Phantom Museum was made on two tapes – a grainy black-and-white one, on which the master of the ceremony opens door after door and drawer after drawer; and a colour one, exploring the intimate life of the exhibits, supplementing their stories. If the film is often unsettling, this is less because of the Quays' proven feel for the uncanny than for the way the Wellcome collection itself inescapably exploits our most fundamental fears: of birth, sex, mutilation and death – wrote Michael Brooke. The Quays edited the film with music by Zdenek Liška, but they weren’t permitted to use it. Finally the soundtrack, quite uncharacteristic for the Quays, was composed by Gary Tarn.

Jakub Mikurda

Bracia Quay

Twins, born in 1947. They studied in Philadelphia and continued their education at the Royal College of Art in London, where in the 1970s they directed their first short films. In the 1980s, they made commercials (for Honeywell, Walkers Crisps, and Dulux Wood Protection), music videos (the most famous one - for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer), and animations which made them popular – The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Street of Crocodiles. In 1995, their first feature film premiered: Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream That One Calls Human Life, winner of the Bronze Horse in Stockholm and the jury’s award at the Fantasporto festival. Another full-length live acting film by the brothers is The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes. Their art is inspired by literature, especially by prose by Bruno Schulz and lately - Stanisław Lem.

Cast & Crew

director The Quay Brothers
screenplay The Quay Brothers
cinematography The Quay Brothers
editing The Quay Brothers
music Gary Tarn
visual design The Quay Brothers
cast Stephen Quay
producer Keith Griffiths
production Koninck Studios, Animate!, Finetake, Arts Council of England, Channel Four
language English
colouration colour & b&w