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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2006 5:06 pm 
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Quay Brothers - The Short Films 1979-2003

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The BFI has collaborated with the inimitable Quay Brothers to release a truly comprehensive compilation of their short films on DVD; a world first. The Quays were extensively involved with the preparation of the DVD, personally supervising the transfers, recording commentaries on selected titles, and contributing an exclusive 20-minute illustrated video interview.

This two-disc set, in deluxe packaging, collects 13 of the Quay Brothers' short films, spanning 24 years, in brand new restored and re-mastered editions (six of them with new Quay commentaries), plus a collection of 'footnotes' including interviews, alternative versions, unrealised pilot projects and more. An accompanying illustrated colour booklet features an encyclopaedic guide to the Quays' universe, plus the original illustrated treatment for their best-known film Street of Crocodiles.

Born in Philadelphia and based in London, but with a creative sensibility derived from the remoter corners of Eastern Europe, identical twin animators the Quay Brothers have produced a unique body of work, and have also made a major contribution towards establishing the puppet film as a serious adult art form.

Filtering a huge range of literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each Quay film is a dialogue-free and usually non-narrative experience, riveting the attention through hypnotic control of dcor, music and movement. With a grasp of the uncanny that rivals Luis Buñuel and Lewis Carroll, their films evoke half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling by turns.

The collection ranges from their very first puppet film Nocturna Artificialia (1979) to the recent The Phantom Museum (2003). In between there are all the classics: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984), a tribute to their great Czech counterpart; This Unnameable Little Broom (1985), a reduction of the Epic of Gilgamesh into a ten-minute frenzy; their acknowledged masterpiece Street of Crocodiles (1986), a visualisation of the labyrinthine world of Polish author Bruno Schulz; the tantalisingly suggestive Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) and The Comb (1990); the playful documentary Anamorphosis (1991), uncovering hidden meanings in outwardly conventional paintings; the Stille Nacht quartet (1988-94) of twisted music videos, and In Absentia (2000), their acclaimed collaboration with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The second disc, 'Footnotes', contains numerous extras including a newly commissioned filmed interview, distinctive idents for the BFI and BBC2, the satirical short The Summit (1995) and a rare 'acting' appearance (albeit in stills) in a clip from Peter Greenaway's The Falls.

The DVD has been produced by the BFI's Michael Brooke, Content Developer for Screenonline, the BFI's extensive online resource dedicated to the history of British film and television.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 3:49 am 
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The specs for the BFI's Quay Brothers disc haven't yet been officially announced, but the BBFC let the cat out of the bag earlier today - so please go ahead and have a delve.

God knows where they got the idea that the main spoken language is Russian(!), and I spotted considerably more than one "sexualised image", but I'm happy to confirm that everything else is broadly correct.

(though to that list you can add Quay commentaries, Scope versions of Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies and In Absentia and a hefty booklet).

Oh, and since the press release has gone out, I believe this makes me free to post the final specs of QUAY BROTHERS - THE SHORT FILMS 1979-2003.

DISC ONE: FILMS

Twelve restored and remastered short films in Quay-supervised and approved native PAL transfers. All aspect ratios are as specified by the Quays, with anamorphic enhancement where necessary. This really will be as good as they've ever looked on a domestic format.

- The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
- This Unnameable Little Broom (1985)
- Street of Crocodiles (1986)
- Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1988)
- Stille Nacht I: Dramolet (1988)
- The Comb (1990)
- Anamorphosis (1991)
- Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married? (1992)
- Stille Nacht III: Tales From Vienna Woods (1992)
- Stille Nacht IV: Can't Go Wrong Without You (1993)
- In Absentia (2000)
- The Phantom Museum (2003)

plus
- Quay commentaries on This Unnameable Little Broom, Street of Crocodiles, Stille Nacht I, II and III, and In Absentia;
- Optional subtitles on commentaries and Anamorphosis

DISC TWO: FOOTNOTES

Around two hours of extras, including more shorts:

- 1990s BFI Distribution ident (designed by the Quays)
- Video introduction by the Quays (20 mins, recorded in May 2006 and copiously illustrated with clips and stills)
- Nocturna Artificialia (1979 - their debut film)
- The Calligrapher (1991 - unbroadcast BBC2 ident)
- The Summit (1995 - previously unreleased/unbroadcast live-action short)
- excerpt from Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) featuring the Quays
- archive interview (29 mins, recorded in February 2000 at the Paris Doll Museum)
- anamorphic 2.35:1 versions of Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies and In Absentia
plus
optional HOH subtitles wherever necessary

Accompanying booklet features:
- Facsimile of original eight-page illustrated treatment for Street of Crocodiles (this accompanied their original funding application, and it's fascinating to compare it with the final film)
- A Quay Brothers Dictionary of people, places, themes and motifs. This contains nearly sixty entries - here's a sample:

Quote:
Müller, Heinrich-Anton (1865-1930) - Swiss vine technologist who was incarcerated following a breakdown resulting from losing the patent of a grape-grafting machine of his invention. In the Munsingen mental hospital he created numerous eccentric perpetual motion machines (see 'bachelor machine', q.v.) out of discarded items. He also drew obsessively, his human figures suffused in melancholy and vulnerability. The design of Gilgamesh, the protagonist of This Unnameable Little Broom, was intended as a conscious homage to Müller, who, alongside Adolf Wölfli (q.v.) remains one of the best-known exponents of 'outsider art'.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 11:20 am 
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Good work. I'm looking forward to it greatly.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 3:15 pm 
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Oh, and you might be interested in this too - it's another extract from the booklet:

Quote:
RESTORATION NOTES

The films featured on Disc One, together with Nocturna Artificialia on Disc Two, are presented in the highest possible quality from transfers made under the personal supervision of the Quay Brothers.

New High-Definition digital masters were created on a Spirit Datacine using new 35mm and 16mm interpositive elements struck from the original film negatives. MTI and HD-DVNR digital restoration systems were used to remove dirt and scratches and repair damaged frames, while taking care not to 'correct' intentional blemishes. The soundtracks were mastered at 24-bit from the original magnetic and optical tracks, and were also digitally restored.

All films are presented in the Quays' preferred aspect ratios, anamorphically enhanced when necessary. At the Quays' request, Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies and In Absentia have been presented in alternative 16:9 (standard widescreen) and 2.35:1 (Scope) versions.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:57 pm 
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Thanks for the info, Michael.

Is Institute Benjamenta still in the works?


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 5:02 am 
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I have absolutely no idea, but as I'm a freelance producer who doesn't work for BFI Video full time, that's not especially surprising.

In other words, while I'm a mine of information about the Quay Brothers and Svankmajer projects, there's not much point pumping me for news about anything else. And even with regard to those two releases, I'm not going to reveal anything that isn't already in the public domain, for obvious contractual reasons.

Sorry about the brick wall impersonation, but I don't have much choice!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:50 pm 

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Am i to assume that this BFI release will be completely identical to the proposed R1 Zeitgeist release in 2007?


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:33 am 
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DVD Times has just unveiled the cover artwork and selected menus for the Quay Brothers discs...


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 12:26 am 
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Bargain!

And what's going on here?


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 6:37 am 
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foggy eyes wrote:

Thanks for alerting me - I'm looking into it right now. Unless I'm in for a very big surprise, this is basically rubbish, but I'll check with our distribution people and confirm.

Although the final production stages were hit by last-minute technical hitches to do with the packaging (mostly revolving around a rather unusual font that the Quays wanted us to use). as far as I'm aware things are still on course for a mid-November release. And that's 2006, not 2007!

UPDATE: OK, I've found out what the problem is - it's because the packaging delays caused the release date to shift from October 30, and the new date hasn't found its way into the system yet. Apparently until this is done, it'll automatically report back with "Off the Schedule", and for some reason it generates a totally spurious new date that's a year after the original. So if you've pre-ordered, please rest assured that you'll get your DVDs sooner rather than later (or never).


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 2:01 pm 
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I've just been told that the Quay Brothers DVD release date is now definitely and definitively 20 November.

Hopefully the news will filter through to Amazon, Benson's World etc. in the fullness of time - but in the meantime, please ignore their claims about it being "off the schedule" or not out until October 2007.

And on Monday, BFI Screenonline will be launching its extensive Quay Brothers section, which will feature detailed coverage of all the films on the DVDs, together with extensive stills galleries and video clips.

In the meantime, why not enjoy Malcolm McDowell's interactive guide to the Free Cinema movement - which, unlike most of the video content on Screenonline, is accessible to everyone.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2006 12:30 am 
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MichaelB wrote:
In the meantime, why not enjoy Malcolm McDowell's interactive guide to the Free Cinema movement - which, unlike most of the video content on Screenonline, is accessible to everyone.

That's quite entertaining: he abuses the viewer at every opportunity. I don't see why Screenonline can't have more accessible video content (surely there are out-of-copyright things?).

The Quay and Svankmajer sets sound suitably impressive, but will we ever see a subtitled DVD (rather than dubbed VHS) edition of the latter's Alice? (I saw Lunacy at the LFF yesterday, which lived up to expectations, even though the stop-motion sequences were reduced to meaty interludes on this occasion.)


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2006 3:38 am 
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Gropius wrote:
That's quite entertaining: he abuses the viewer at every opportunity. I don't see why Screenonline can't have more accessible video content (surely there are out-of-copyright things?).

Not as many as you'd think! European copyright laws are extremely restrictive, in that moving image material is copyrighted until 70 years after the last surviving major creative contributor has died. And when you consider that Victorian pioneers like Cecil Hepworth and G.A.Smith survived until the 1950s, you can doubtless see what the problem is.

The Free Cinema stuff's OK, because it's mostly owned outright by the BFI in the first place, but the overwhelming majority of the rest of the material on Screenonline needs third-party rightsholder approval. And this isn't just the actual rightsholder - other bodies like Equity and the Performers' Alliance also have a say, which is why things like the Creative Archive include little or no dramatic material. The unions are happy for the Screenonline material to be restricted to educational users, but as yet they're wary of letting us give it wider circulation. (And even if they were minded to be more generous, they wouldn't be able to sanction access outside the UK).

But please rest assured that this is something we look into on a regular basis - contrary to the impression given by some of our more excitable conspiracy-theorist correspondents, we don't actually LIKE being this restrictive, and anything that will legally allow us to give this material wider circulation will be seriously considered.

Personally, I'd love Screenonline to be accessible worldwide with no restrictions at all - I'm enormously proud of it, and greatly enjoy showing off the full version to groups of teachers and watching their jaws drop in unison (even before they discover it's free) - but this simply isn't going to happen without inconceivably sweeping legislative changes.

That said, some other sections are already available to everyone - such as the Early British Comedy and Ealing Studios tours.

Quote:
The Quay and Svankmajer sets sound suitably impressive, but will we ever see a subtitled DVD (rather than dubbed VHS) edition of the latter's Alice?

I don't know, but I'm in regular contact with the film's executive producer Keith Griffiths, so I'll ask him.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 1:27 pm 
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I now have in my possession the new BFI Quay Brothers Short Films dvd set. I've not had a chance to watch all of it yet but I've had a brief look through everything and watched some of the films and my first impression is that this is one of the very finest items in my fairly sizeable dvd collection (and I'm sure that impression is not going to change). I would like to congratulate MichaelB on the release of his first dvd production and for the fact that it is such a marvellous and well put together package. It is obvious that a huge amount of effort and care went into ensuring every element was of the highest quality possible.

The transfers look excellent and far better than I thought possible. I did intend to watch the films in chronological order but I couldn't resist going straight to In Absentia, the Quay's collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen, a film that I have been wanting to see for quite some time. It certainly lived up to my expectations and Stockhausen's wonderfully dark score is amazing and quite unlike his earlier electronic works (Gesang der Jünglinge, Kontakte, Hymnen etc.) - I would think this one would go down well with fans of Coil, Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound etc.

I can't wait to watch the rest of the films and the other extras tonight. I should also mention that the booklet is excellent as is the packaging which consists of an outer box with a fold out digipack inside that houses the dvds and the booklet. A very pleasing package.

With regards to the upcoming BFI Svankmajer collection I just want to say that I have the new KimStim Ossuary and Other Tales dvd and it is a very bad disc. It is rife with some of the most appalling examples of ghosting and other pal-ntsc conversion defects that I have ever seen, many of which destroy much of the brilliance of Svankmajer's animation. I have posted a screen capture of this here.
So my advice is to wait to see what the BFI come up with.


Last edited by vogler on Wed Nov 15, 2006 8:37 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 2:19 pm 
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vogler wrote:
In Absentia, the Quay's collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen, a film that I have been wanting to see for quite some time. It certainly lived up to my expectations and Stockhausen's wonderfully dark score is amazing and quite unlike his earlier electronic works (Gesang der Jünglinge, Kontakte, Hymnen etc.) - I would think this one would go down well with fans of Coil, Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound etc.

Sounds marvellous, not least because I'm a fan of all these bands you mention... and of Stockhausen. Just because I haven't ordered the set yet, being held back by the uncertainty about the release date: is this a special composition by Stockhausen for this film? I never heard him mention anything about it. Or is it some electronic excerpt from his LIGHT cycle? In any case, as you have gotten the set, I will order it right now...


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 2:43 pm 
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I too am a fan of both Stockhausen and the other bands I mentioned. I just found this information on the internet 'The award winning film In Absentia (2000) by the Brothers Quay, uses Stockhausen's Zwei Paare (Two Couples) from Freitag aus Licht as its soundtrack.'

It is an amazing piece of music and I had not heard it before. I nearly went to see some of Stockhausen's LIGHT cycle opera at the Barbican in London a few years ago but I didn't have much money at the time so I only attended the early electronic works performace instead. The concert consisted of all the early electronic pieces up to and including Kontakte and lengthy explanations of the pieces from Stockhausen himself. They were presented in almost complete darkness and the spatial aspects of the music were mind blowing. I actually experienced some of the sounds almost as if they were physical objects flying around the concert hall. Amazing stuff.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 4:50 pm 
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I saw the premiere of In Absentia at the London Barbican and can add wholesale endorsement of this rivetting piece of work. Multi-decibel Stockhausen coupled with The Quay's unsettling journey into compulsive obsessive insanity certainly reamed out this viewer's nodes of Ranvier. I was also sitting bang behind Werner Herzog as well. All in all it doesn't come any trippier!!!


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 6:24 pm 
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A query that's been niggling at me for a while, but which MichaelB can presumably answer:

Whither Stravinsky: The Paris Years? It drags a bit, and it's probably my least favourite of their shorts, but it seems like a curious omission from the set when everything else from the same period, even Nocturna Artificiala, is included. Even though it's their longest short, it looks like it would fit on the discs with no problem. Rights issues?


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 9:14 pm 
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zedz wrote:
Rights issues?

In a word, yes.

In several words, both the Janacek and Stravinsky shorts would have needed time-consuming and potentially expensive rights clearance in order to include them - Janacek is out of copyright, but the performances aren't, and since the Velvet Revolution the Supraphon recordings that the Quays used have passed into private hands, with all that that implies in terms of costs per minute.

The Stravinsky situation is exactly the opposite - the pianola performances were specially performed for the film, but the music is still in copyright (and for a good few decades, since Stravinsky died in 1971).

Similar reasons explain the omission of other shorts, notably the Steve Martland quartet from 2003 - in this particular case, the rights were cleared for performance at the Tate Modern, but not for retail, and would have cost an additional sum in the high four figures to licence. And the Kafka adaptation Ein Brudermord features an uncleared Penderecki recording, which would need both composition and performance rights sorted out in order to make it distributable.

Incidentally, the official release date of the BFI Quays set is next Monday, but if copies are being sent out now, I'm not exactly about to complain. Especially not if people like Vogler end up writing what they did, for which I'm extremely grateful!


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 6:17 am 
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vogler wrote:
I too am a fan of both Stockhausen and the other bands I mentioned. I just found this information on the internet 'The award winning film In Absentia (2000) by the Brothers Quay, uses Stockhausen's Zwei Paare (Two Couples) from Freitag aus Licht as its soundtrack.'

Oh, GREAT!!! That's an amazing piece indeed. It is an excerpt from the Electronic Music which provides the basic soundtrack for that opera (which I was happy enough to see when it was premiered at Leipzig in 1996, and what an unbelievable show it was). Incidentally, the piece exists in several versions, there is a piece called "Paare vom FREITAG" which lasts 60 mins and from which this "Two Couples" is an excerpt. Then you can get the whole of the Electronic Music alone as a 150 min. piece, and of course you can listen to it in the context of the whole opera. Now THAT's recycling, but if anyone wants to hear these versions outside the film, they are all available on cd directly from the maestro himself at www.stockhausen.org.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 6:05 am 
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DVD Times on Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003...


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 5:52 pm 
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And here's DVD Beaver on the Quay Brothers package, with tons of frame grabs, menu shots, etc.

Incidentally, the very last grab is from The Summit, the rarest item on the DVDs. This only exists as a low-resolution Avid rendering as the Quays failed to obtain funding to complete it properly - hence the uncharacteristically poor quality.

More Quay DVD reviews:

Channel4.com (Anton Bitel)
BBC Liverpool (Ramsey Campbell)

...and novelist China Miéville will be discussing the Quays and the new DVDs on BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme, broadcast live tomorrow at 4.30pm (GMT), but presumably accessible from the same link for the following seven days.

UPDATE: It's the last item in the programme, starting approx. 24 minutes in.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2006 5:56 pm 
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MichaelB, I agree with everything that has been said here about the Quay Bros DVD, a wonderful piece of work and what a wonderful pair of characters.

I am not quite able to throw out all my bits and pieces of theirs on VHS though as there is no place on the DVD for The Sandman, their contribution to the Sound On Film series, and a very fine one too. Any idea whether this is due a release elsewhere, as part of a set of the Sound On Film series; there were a few I seem to recall, though I only taped this and the Roeg episode.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2006 4:57 pm 
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Actually, The Sandman was made for Channel Four - the Quays' contribution to the BBC's Sound on Film initiative was the Karlheinz Stockhausen collaboration In Absentia, two versions of which are on the DVD.

The other three Sound on Film pieces in the same series were:

Pilgrimage - Werner Herzog/John Tavener
The Sound of Claudia Schiffer - Nicolas Roeg/Adrian Utley (Portishead)
The New Math(s) - Hal Hartley/Louis Andriessen

In general, you can assume that any omissions from the Quay DVDs are to do with music rights, and this is particularly true of recent titles. With early ones, their own antipathy also played a part - they weren't even that keen on their historically important debut Nocturna Artificialia being featured, and we ended up compromising by sticking it on the second disc with the other "footnotes".


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2006 5:22 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
Actually, The Sandman was made for Channel Four - the Quays' contribution to the BBC's Sound on Film initiative was the Karlheinz Stockhausen collaboration In Absentia, two versions of which are on the DVD.

Yes, my mistake. I realised after I posted but as nobody here has ever mentioned The Sandman I didn't bother to correct it... (Not familiar with all the functons here either...) I didn't see the other contributions you mention and to be honest I haven't even got around to watching the Roeg one yet... Some day, though latter period Roeg is not usually anything to write home about. Sadly.


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