Film-Forward Review: [BROTHERS OF THE HEAD]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

(Left to right) Harry & Luke Treadaway 
as Tom & Barry Howe
Photo: Nike Wall/IFC

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Directed by: Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe.
Produced by: Gail Egan & Simon Channing Williams.
Written by: Tony Grisoni, based on the novel by Brian Aldiss.
Director of Photography: Anthony Dod Mantle.
Edited by: Nic Gaster.
Music by: Clive Langer.
Released by: IFC.
Country of Origin: UK. 93 min. Not Rated.
With: Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway, Bryan Dick, Howard Attfield, Tom Bower, Ken Russell, Tania Emery, Sean Harris & Jane Horrocks.

With Friends with Money and A Prairie Home Companion behind us, it seems that ensemble casts are one of this season’s big trends. But no matter how many stars a producer can throw together in a single cast, it’s always a safe bet that the best films in any given year will be from an ensemble of filmmakers. And with talent like directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (whose Lost in La Mancha documented Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated take on Don Quixote), writer Tony Grisoni (Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Lars von Trier’s current cinematographer du jour Anthony Dod Mantle, nothing short of a complete La Mancha disaster could have tarnished this production.

Based on the novel by Brian Aldiss, 18-year-old English twins Tom and Barry Howe, conjoined at their torso by a slender tunnel of flesh, are bought from their family by an aging and opportunistic music impresario, Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), who sees the twins’ deformity as a potential selling point. Tom and Barry are groomed to be a ‘70s proto-punk group, the Bang Bang, under the tutelage of a high-strung manager, becoming a half-musical, half-freak show phenomenon before a bizarre twist threatens both their sanity and their lives.

It’s worth mentioning the book because Aldiss makes an appearance in the film, discussing his work and introducing clips of an unfinished film on Tom and Barry. Contrary to appearances, this is no documentary; it’s just the directors Fulton and Pepe’s debut into intricate metafiction. Inferring most of the scenes (which break the fourth wall and add in a fifth and sixth) were shot by a cinéma vérité student of D. A. Pennebaker, Fulton and Pepe utilize their documentary aesthetic to make Aldiss’ story seem improbably realistic. Interlaced with fake interviews, fake documents, and fake concert footage, reality becomes so questionable that by the time the audience understands who is really Tom and Barry’s “imaginary friend,” you almost believe it’s true.

Identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway make their debut performance as Tom and Barry, respectively, with convincing charm, capturing writer Tony Grisoni’s vision of teenage conjoined twins with a kind of intimacy and affection that only twins could fully understand. (Their most startling scenes deal with the twins’ awakening sexuality, pounded home by Tom and Barry’s debut single, “Two-Way Romeo,” which bluntly celebrates the benefits of conjoined twins who can “bang-bang through the night.”)

Like a late Fellini film, Grisoni’s script is filled with unusual psychological depictions, pointing to differing levels of isolation and desperation – from the twins’ intimacy to their relationships with their rich musical benefactor and discoverer, their abusive manager, and Tom’s girlfriend – along with discrete allusions to the twins’ unique form of incest and bisexuality. Topping it off with Anthony Dod Mantle’s alternately beautiful and barren cinematography, Brothers of the Head is a shoe-in for an Independent Spirit Award for cinematography, at the very least. Zachary Jones
July 28, 2006



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