Brothers of the Head
Friday, August 18, 2006
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe are not related by blood and are definitely not physically joined at the hip. But they are that filmmaking oddity of a directing couple. Hollywood'and the Directors Guild of America'seems fine with brothers such the Wachowski's or Farrelly's sharing screen credit at the helm as if the sibling relationship justifies their close collaboration. But unrelated co-directors'especially maverick types like Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller teaming up forSin City
'seems to make the film industry uncomfortable, like Siamese twins do. And that's one of the reasons why Brian Aldiss' novelBrothers of the Head
appealed to Fulton and Pepe.
Aldiss' novel concerns a pair of Siamese twin brothers, Tom and Barry Howe (played by non-conjoined twins Harry and Luke Treadaway respectively), who are molded into a punkish rock band called Bang Bang in the 1970s. A music promoter wants a phenomena and he sets his sights on transforming the conjoined Howes into a rock band. The gimmick works, and the film serves up a mockumentary/rockumentary about their rise and fall. To the outside world, the boys are a novelty, a freak show, and an object of fascination. They also become a collaborative artistic team as they begin writing and performing their own songs. So the story carries personal resonances for a pair of filmmakers tackling their first fiction film.
Fulton and Pepe chronicled the creative process of Terry Gilliam in Lost in La Mancha and a behind the scenes documentary about 12 Monkeys . Now they use the documentary format that they are familiar with to craft the fictional narrative of Brothers of the Head . For their first feature, they have wisely chosen both their material and their creative approach. In examining the brothers, the filmmakers are in essence reflecting on their own collaborative relationship. In interviewing the people surrounding the twins, the filmmakers are able to explore the opinions of those who think such close collaborations are somehow freakish. But in the case of the Howes, there is no alternative. They must collaborate together because they only exist together.
The Howe boys are both the subject of the film and its central mystery. The film attempts to explore who they are and even though it gets close to them, there is always something that the twins seem to keep secret. This is conveyed in a shot where the camera moves in on the boys as they are sitting on the edge of a bathtub. Tom shuts the door on the camera, effectively drawing a line and saying that there are some things that are and will remain private.
The boys, brilliantly played by the Treadaway brothers, exist in perpetual contrast to each other. Barry, played by Luke Treadaway, is in your face while Tom, played by Harry, is charming. Barry is loud and aggressive; Tom is quiet and eager to please. They are very different yet they are always together; you cannot have one without the other, which makes things very complicated when one falls in love and the other doesn't. But then they are who they are precisely because of their contrasts and their inability to be apart. In an odd way they seem whole while every one around them seems incomplete. The Treadaways capture the contrasts of their characters. They also convey the contrast between the public persona of Bang Bang and the private personalities of Tom and Barry. They also excel at capturing the anger and emotion of the music.
Brothers of the Head doesn't delve as deeply into the interdependent nature of a Siamese twin relationship as the Polish Brothers' Twin Falls Idaho did. Instead, Brothers of the Head seems more interested in how the brothers are perceived by the outside world. That's why we feel like we are more inside the relationship of the brothers in Twin Falls Idaho and more an observer of the twins in Brothers of the Head . Each approach works in its respective film because the themes and goals of each are different.
In Brothers of the Head , the documentary format initially feels satiric, as if inspired by This is Spinal Tap . We even have eccentric filmmaker Ken Russell appearing as himself and talking about the biopic'called Two Way Romeo 'he made about the Howe brothers. In moments like that where reality and fiction blur, Fulton and Pepe seem to be poking fun at the media and its hunger to exploit anything remotely sensational. But as the film progresses, the kind of jokey, self-reflexive humor gives way to something more emotionally affecting. The conundrum of the twin takes hold and we become entangled in their complex emotional ties and dependencies.
Brothers of the Head (rated R for language, drug use and sexuality) is a beguiling work. It manages to be funny and moving as it pulls you into its story of identity, collaboration, exploitation and creativity. In a summer of bloated blockbusters, Brothers of the Head offers subtle and inspired creativity.
Companion viewing: Twin Falls Idaho, Sisters, Stuck on You, Lost in La Mancha -----