Point Blank / The Brothers Quay
Citation: Tofts, Darren. “Point Blank / The Brothers Quay.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 19, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/019.g02
Abstract: This project is a continuation of the “Erroneous Attributions” series of cult film remakes; the two previous works have previously published in Hyperrhiz in 2016 (on “Performance”) and 2017 (on Rollerball).
Animators and knee tremblers to the Court of St James
Macaronic puns were never part of the standard kit for Stephen and Timothy. Nor Cockney rhyming slang. You know, East End chatter like being invited to an “unprecedented meeting” (or gentle touch-up), giving someone a bit of “tom tit” (shit), “knocking a geezer through the Tommy Trinder” (window). Animation was more their caper. As in stopping motion, putting the frighteners on little twerps at 24 frames a second.
The image, taken in 1964, is a synecdoche of the plot whereby they are strolling purposefully to door-knock the entire East End in search of a missing animation diorama. They have been working on it for some time and it has been snatched from their Southwark studio. They are not amused. It is officially known among their associates as a “diabolical liberty”.
They have also sent some of their associates, members of the Firm including Dicky Chopping, Jack “the Hat” McVitie and Frank “the mad axeman” Mitchell, to city and provincial film studios in search of the fugitive diorama. And no art gallery will be left unturned. A successful retrieval is likely in that it is housed, risibly, in a facsimile of Marcel Duchamp’s “Underwood” typewriter case, it too stolen, but not from the Quays. And with a name like Street of Crocodiles it is an item that will not be hard to miss. Like "Mad" Frankie’s rhotacism. As a giant of a man and gentle to boot (so to speak) Frankie is frequently the butt of niggling among the gents every time he mentions the Quays.
Meanwhile in Düsseldorf, Kraftwerk have specially remixed their 1977 “Schaufensterpuppen” (“Show Room Dummies”) from Trans-Europe Express. The music world is perplexed as there has been no announcement of the recording, nor its rationale. Under some duress, Florian Schneider announces its release in English on a temporarily revived Radio Luxembourg (reputedly funded by “dirty money” from Richard Branson), broadcasting from somewhere in the North Sea (exact whereabouts unknown). He then intones:
We are standing here Exposing ourselves
We step out And stalk through the city
We're being watched and feel for their pulse
We look around and change our clothes
We go into a club And then we see a glance
You start to smile And so we break the glass…
The directors of the station are suspicious and approach Scotland Yard for analysis. So far the peak body has been unable to decipher any coded message that might make sense. When it is decided to seek advice from John Thaw and Dennis Waterman of The Sweeney, it is pointed out to Schneider that they were in fact actors. On reviewing the lyrics at AIR studios, it is suggested by George Martin that Schneider and the other members of Kraftwerk have been “stood over” by the Quay twins. He is mystified as to what possible motive the Quays could have in undertaking such action, other than artistic rivalry. He justifies this by pointing to what appear to be hidden messages in the lyrics, which are sent immediately to Special Branch for analysis. It is found that the messages are in anagrammatic form. Some of the findings are telling: “exposing ourselves”/ explosives surgeon, “stalk through the city”/ cutthroat Kelsy thigh, “We're being watched”/ a new Brecht wedgie, “Change our clothes”/ accost Helen rough. Most menacing of all though, “And so we break the glass”/Antares bleeds goshawk. Goth revivalists throughout the North of England excitedly point to the possibility of coded references to the Norse Sagas. They flock to standing stones in Amesbury and the Outer Hebrides. Martin reluctantly points out to them in an open letter to the Guardian that “Antares” is in fact from the Greek. No one seems any the wiser.
The situation heats up when a bloodied finger is found in the mouth of a Harrods dummy in a provincial Northern city (name withheld). Suffice to say it piques Schneider’s interest. A forensic examination indicates that the finger had been deliberately bitten, or more precisely, gnawed off. Schneider is convinced that these events are in no way random. He believes an elaborate conceit is at work in the manner of the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” from the White Album. Like many Beatles nerds before him he combs the minutia of data for evidence of conspiracy:
cutthroats Kelsy thigh
a new Brecht wedgie
accosts Helen rough
Antares bleeds goshawk
At first glance he sees potential. A sentence emerges with a few added connectives and possessives:
An explosives surgeon cutthroats Kelsy’s thigh. A new Brecht wedgie accosts Helen rough. Meanwhile Antares bleeds goshawk. Antares is the Red Star, brightest in the constellation of Scorpius, fifteenth in the night sky. So, an astronomical pattern begins to emerge. The suggestion of bleeding birds of prey suggests Kes, the 1968 novel by Barry Hines, an allusion that is darkly fitting. In this text the wild kestrel that is Billy’s familiar is cruelly killed by his elder brother Jud (“Antares bleeds goshawk”). Brecht brings with it the notion of epic theatre and alienation. By way of displacement, his St Joan of the stockyards’ battle with Pierpont Mauler is a figure Schneider equates with the cruel exploitation of workers and an unforgiving reality of poverty and oppression. Joan of Arc becomes Joan Dark, lowlife hoodlum in 1920s Chicago. Pleased with this reading, he presents the findings to the other members of the group. However they are not well received. Words like “geschmacklos” and “egotisisch” are repeated during the tense discussion. Ralph Hütter was said to leave the room in disgust.
Then a week later a dramatic and unforeseen turn of events. Fritz Hilpert informs his colleagues that Schneider is in America. It is revealed that he is in fact in contact with British hit-man Jimmy Evans. More alarming still, it is rumoured that they met at the Mütter Museum of morbid anatomy and monstrosity in Philadelphia. With them was the shadowy, underworld figure David Litvinoff, an acquaintance of the Quays as well as various rock stars including Mick Jagger and the actor James Fox. Evans was heard to have been “interested” in its collection of historical surgical instruments, especially tools for craniotomy. On hearing this news Henning Smitz is said to have fainted on the spot and could not be revived with smelling salts. Evans, a shadowy figure, keeps under the radar, unlike Litvinoff who maintains a high profile in the music world as well as the London demi-monde. And his methods of dispatch are legendary. One such performance involved shooting a rival in the groin, charmingly known in Cockney as the “orchestra stalls”, a drollery straight out of Stephen Quay’s book of slang.
This alarming convergence of circumstance and unsavoury figures is brought to a sudden and dramatic end. The Quays are caught by members of Special Branch in an elaborate sting involving the painter Francis Bacon, known to the twins from rakish Soho drinking clubs such as the Colony Room. Unknown to Bacon, he had been set up by a constabulary plant to meet William Burroughs at the Colony, who would be in London while en route to Tangiers. No one would be any the wiser. The Quays, pretending to be barmen, start talking about Litvinoff with the painter. When the heavy mob broke their cover as boozers, it was on for young and old. To no-one’s surprise it for all the world resembled an episode of The Sweeney.