Documentary focuses on ‘open cemetery’ of Mutter Museum

A new film about the Mutter Museum will premiere Thursday night. It’s a documentary of a very unusual nature.

The story of the museum of medical oddities in Center City is being told by the Quay brothers, a pair of reclusive filmmakers known for meticulously detailed and morbid animations.

Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, identical twins Timothy and Steven Quay recall visiting the Mutter Museum in 1968.

“We remember the place being incredibly dingy and unlit,” said Steven. “Now it’s a different place.”

They returned to the museum in August 2010 to shoot footage of the museum’s grisly artifacts, including pathologically damaged flesh and the skeletons of abnormal fetuses.

At the time, the Quays said they were not interested in a classical documentary. They wanted to discover a narrative by closely examining the objects.

“This is an open cemetery …” said Steven.

“Unlike cemeteries where people are buried underground,” said Timothy, finishing his brother’s thought.

“Instead of saying, ‘to my dear husband who died on such-and-such a date,’ a skull might say ’28-year-old suicide,’ ” continued Steven.

“Or the one, a Russian boy, who died of castration. Because of a religious order that said you had to castrate yourself,” said Timothy.

The brothers are expected to be at the premiere of their 30-minute film at the Philadelphia College of Physicians–the home of the Mutter museum. They will then go to New York’s Museum of Modern Art for a higher-profile screening of “Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mutter Museum).”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.