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Tapping into the senses: Corporeality and immanence in The Piano Tuner of EarthQuakes (Quay Brothers, 2005)

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In The Piano Tuner of EarthQuakes (2006), the Quay Brothers' second feature, the sensual form and the meta-artistic content are truly interweaved, and the siblings' staple animated materials become part of the theme itself. Using Michel Serres's argument in Les cinq sens (2014, whose subtitle in English is A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies), I address the relationship between the Quays intermedial animation and the way the art forms of music, painting, theatre and sculpture are used to captivate the film viewer's sensorium in the same way that some of the characters are fascinated by the evil Droz, a scientist and failed composer who manipulates machines and people alike, among them Felisberto, a meek piano tuner with the ability to stir the natural elements. I further proceed to posit the entire film as an intended allegory of animation on the Quays part. Their haptic construction of a three-dimensional world which they control artistically is replicated in the film in Droz's and Felisberto's activities vis-à-vis Malvina van Stille, an abducted opera diva who is kept in a suspended animation state (just like a marionette) and several hydraulic automata with musical resounding properties, some of them made up of an uncanny assortment of body parts. The artificial life of these creatures is contrasted, in two ways, with their physical reality as beings that exist in the world: first, via Serres's sensorial strategy to transform a body into a conscious entity (i.e., endowed with a soul), an embodiment I call 'Corpo-Reality', and second, by resorting to Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the body without organs (BwO) in its advocacy of 'hard' nature and the rejection of a rigid assortment of body parts (either biological or social). The paradoxical organic objectivity of the 'marionettized' Malvina is pitted against the seemingly subjective doings of the mechanical automata, especially an android woodcutter. However, just as in the story things are not what they seem, and the automata actually reflect the 'real' world of Felisberto's tuning of them (and vice versa, in a process entitled 'vertical mise en abyme'), so the film itself can be a 'crystal-image' (per Deleuze), offering itself to the senses of the spectator.
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Keywords: BwO; Quay Brothers; allegory of animation; corporeality; manipulation; senses

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000090840599 Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon

Publication date: November 1, 2019

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