Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life
d. Brothers Quay / 1995 / UK / 104 mins
Viewed at: The Box @ FACT (Liverpool, UK)
Okay, so I watched the Quay Brothers’ Institute Benjamenta last night as part of the Film and Philosophy course at FACT Liverpool. It was screened on a reasonably battered 35mm print (although the scratchyness kind of worked to its advantage), which may or may not be the only 35mm print of the film in the UK, having been sourced directly from the Brothers themselves. Anyone who has seen the film doesn’t need reminding that this glorious work of art is a mystifying, brilliant treatise on the meanings of existence and the ‘value’ of rules and order. And yet the film seems to have had a strange effect on me.
I work up this morning having dreamt vividly about life as a footsoldier in some kind of totalitarian, vaguely utopian new world order. On endless repeat in my mind were two separate lines from World Turned Upside Down, Billy Bragg’s version of Leon Rosselson’s song about a group of 17th Century agrarian communists called The Diggers: “The clergy dazzle us with heaven, or they damn us into hell”, was the first one, and “you poor take courage, you rich take care”, the second. Strange, I know, but I guess this is what happens when you submit yourself to the Brothers Quay.
Anyway, here is a clip of my favourite scene in the film (and perhaps my new favourite scene of all time)…
…but if you’re up for watching the whole thing (and it is highly recommended), some lovely person has uploaded the whole magnificent spectacle to YouTube (in 11 parts, while it lasts). You can either view the whole playlist, or just get started with part one: