April 29, 1987 [Street of Crocodiles]

Inside of a Joseph Cornell collage box I once spied with my little eye a paper doll--or was it Lauren Bacall, or a parrot, or a constellation at a position in the sky it hasn't held in a thousand years--if ever. And somewhere I saw some of his films, bits of children's parties and elephants hauling logs, scratched images not shabby but well-used, as ancient as Cassiopeia. And so I thought I knew where little Alice went, misty streams flowing into dim shops, pigs and pepper wriggling in her arms.

But these were preludes to the alternate past the Quay brothers build in their animations, a Street of Crocodiles piled with dirt, the camera fluttering like a trapped insect, the violin sawing along a pane of glass where the man is trapped with hollow-headed doll-men, T.S. Eliot suddenly adept at nursery rhymes, not with a bang but a whimper. There is no syntax for their work--although somewhere in Prague a master puppeteer smooths the linen of a marionette's shirt-front and sends it across strange stages, the Quays watching from the back row, thinking about objects somehow beautiful for all their grime and uncertain physiognomy, as though King Kong had been captured by kindly, melancholy surrealists and shrunk and set free in a glass box.


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