Goto, Island of Love

A recent viewing of The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, the brand-new feature by the Brothers Quay, reminded me of the very first time I visited the directors’ ­studio in London. As an admirer of their animated work—Street of Crocodiles, Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, The Comb, et al.—I was struck rum-giddy by their workspace, crammed as it was with all the miniature sets and puppet stars of their cherished masterpieces, and seemingly everything else these twin directors had ever put into their brains along the way to becoming the sovereigns of such intensely scrimshawed dreamscapes. Upon my first step across their threshold, spore-laden pinecones dropped like testicles out of lush conifer boughs hung from the ceiling; from these branches hidden speakers rained Bartók and Herrmann down upon my amazed head and made the place positively humid with music. I could smell heresy and profanation residing within these four walls, whose peeling paint seemed on the verge of revealing pornographic frescoes. Encased within countless teetering towers of mildewy glass cabinets, detached doll parts mingled with the desiccated genitalia of deposed archdukes. The grime of the flagstones, upon which the record of innumerable unholy Sabbaths was goatishly splashed, wended its way through an elephant’s graveyard of dusty automata and other unholy or abandoned attempts at doing God’s work, its depressing pathway ­leading to the mustiest, seemingly most indevout corner, where, shockingly consecrated in a gilt shrine—reserved for the rarest and most precious relics—lay a tape of Goto, l’île d’amour. Here, then, was the source, admitted the identical-twin blasphemers, the ur-movie, the very first film they saw that compelled them into the world of filmmaking. Its director, Walerian Borowczyk, their inspiration, was like the Quays in so many ways: he was an émigré, a Pole living in France (the Quays are Americans residing in the U.K.); with Goto he was making his first live-action movie after a series of award­winning animations (The Piano Tuner is the brother’s second live-action picture); he was obsessed with constructing out of garbage a formal squalor burnished into something approaching the inscrutable beauty of music, and just as obsessed with demolishing all the old roads that might make narrative access to such beauty easy. More similar still, the Borowczyk ethos was eminently priapic—his Euro-sexy wife Ligia Branice was his own Monica Vitti on this little adventure—and his peeling frames promised new species of sex and death simultaneously! A fount indeed!  Alas, Borowczyk ended his career wading into softcore porn. Branice jumped ship, leaving us all to watch the Quays more closely than ever: Amira Casar of Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell is their most recent leading lady! Yes!