Is Art Good Just Because It’s Art?
by Harvey Perr
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
various special engagements around the country
The Brothers Quay have been spinning their mesmerizing web in a dark corner of cinema for such a long time now that it would be churlish to deny them the uniqueness of their vision, the ravishing and startling beauty of their images, or the subtly nuanced and sensual animation techniques they have created. The delicate precision of their short films, those masterpieces of miniaturized worlds unfolding before our eyes in endlessly inventive manifestations of the creative imagination, will always be there to remind us of the refinement and the scrupulousness of their art. And one cannot imagine any work of theirs that would not possess at least glimpses of that art, but, in their second feature-length film, “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes,” despite an abundance of such glimpses, it is nearly impossible to see any marked advancement over their shorter work.
The plot, such as it is, about a mad composer and an opera diva and a piano tuner, evokes the kitsch of “The Phantom of the Opera,” more inspired by Melies than by Kafka, their usual inspiration. And the addition of live actors doesn’t help: both the good ones and the bad ones are forced to speak the archest and most impenetrable gibberish since the advent of sound; dialogue that impedes, rather than contributes to, any forward motion. And what, after all, is cinema but forward motion? The Brothers Quay still make art, but this time around, it is too perilously close to bad cinematic art for comfort.