Brothers of the Head


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Brothers of the Head
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

In 1974, seedy showbiz impresario Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield) has had a streak of bad luck booking new acts. What he needs is something that will get him on top once again and he makes a deal with the father of two twin brothers, Tom and Barry Howe (Luke and Harry Treadaway).  So what’s so special about a pair of teenaged twins? Well, for one thing, their conjoined and the Siamese twins may be just the hook that Zak needs to get back on top in “Brothers of the Head.”

Robin:
Documentary filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (“Lost in La Mancha”) take scripter Tony Grisoni’s screenplay (adapted from the Brian Aldiss novel) and create a mock rock documentary that really works. Zak hires band manager Nick (Sean Harris) to shepherd his conjoined boys and musician Paul (Brian Dyck) to teach them guitar and song writing. Tom, the shyer of the two, is a natural on the guitar and Barry has a singing voice that is perfect for the proto-punk music that will become their claim to fame.

Fulton and Pepe use the mockumentary device to good effect as Eddie, a documentary filmmaker, is hired to chronicle the Howe boys’ journey on their rise to fame. Interspersed with their rehearsals, club gigs, drug use and groupies are modern day, talking head interviews with the players surrounding the boys. Sid, Paul, Eddie, Zak, filmmaker Ken Russell (with footage from his faux, unfinished film about the boys), Brian Aldiss and journalist Laura Ashworth (Tania Emery) – who came on the scene, as the boys’ fame grew, to write a biographic expose on the exploitation of the physically impaired – are tapped to fill in the details of the Howe brothers’ meteoric rise to fame and the tragedy it ultimately brings them.

Brothers of the Head” is a stylish mock rock doc that is so well handled that I questioned, in my head, whether it is real or fake. Fulton and Pepe use their documentary experience to effectively create a nicely structured and balanced work that rings true. Besides the realistic-sounding interview bites, the film also benefits from solid performances all around, especially the Treadaway brothers, and an outstanding score and faux punk songs, expertly written and produced by Clive Langer. The music is as good as some of the best to come out of the 70’s, capturing the raw, almost primal, energy of time as rock ‘n’ roll evolved (or, to some like me, devolved). Fans of the punk movement and its music will delight in Langer’s original songs.

Even is you’re not a fan of the time and its music, Brothers of the Head” is fascinating to watch as the makers build a convincing mockumentary that, if I didn’t know better, could be the real thing. Not since This is Spinal Tap” have I been pulled in to believe what is fiction that plays like fact. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Real life British novelist Brian Aldiss fills us in on some background about two young boys, born conjoined twins in remote L'Estrange Head, whose mother died after birth (perhaps at the sight of them, it's whispered) and whose father eventually sold them to an entertainment impresario.  'It's all incredibly gothic,' he intones.  American documentary filmmaker Eddie Pasqua (Tom Bower) brings us up to the recent past, invading the public and private lives of Barry and Tom Howe (Luke and Harry Treadway), groomed as musicians but who shock as punk rockers and "Brothers of the Head."

Documentary filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe ("Lost in La Mancha") go the mockumentary route with their second feature, but they are making no mockery.  "Brothers of the Head" is an intelligent, probing, artistic look at an unusual fictional band, The Bang Bang, whose eventual breakup gives splitsville a whole new meaning.  The film is dark and unusually beautiful (terrific cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, "Millions") and features the best original soundtrack since "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

Screenwriter Tony Grisoni ("In This World," "Tideland") wisely changes the book's rock 'n rollers into punks, giving the freakish twins, who are connected like Kinnear and Damon in "Stuck on You," an appropriate outlet for both their condition and their anger.  They're introduced as angelic little blond boys in still photographs, one's arm about the other, set against an otherworldly landscape on the eastern coast of England, and suggested in antique medical photographs, a historical motif which is paralleled musically by Dorsey Brothers' 1935 "Every Little Moment," a song sung by real life Siamese twin act the Hilton Sisters (who are featured in the film "Freaks").  The twins' sister, Roberta (Elizabeth rider), is the talking head segue between idealistic past and what turned into her brothers' tragedy.

As outlined by 'documentary' footage, we see the brothers brought to the country house Humbleden Hall where they are tutored in music by Paul Day (Bryan Dick) and bullied by manager Nick Sidney (Sean Harris, "24 Hour Party People").  Dominent force Barry, who ironically is physically dependent on quiet guitarist Tom, fights back and his anger works its way into their music (composer Clive Langer should be remembered at years end for both his score and Best Song nominees 'Two-Way Romeo,' 'Doola & Dawla' and 'Nelson's Blood').  The lads have their first legendary gig at the Kings Head pub, where the booing crowd, convinced the physically wound Bang Bang boys are pooftahs turn completely around when their deformity is flashed in their faces.  Their resultant notoriety and chart topping albums bring journalist Laura Ashworth (Tania Emery/Diana Kent) to their door.  The boys aren't interested in being her written subject, but a romantic triangle blossoms and betrayals loom large.

That Yoko Onesque situation is foretold by their meeting.  "I'm Tom, he's George" says Barry, in dialogue clearly riffing from old Beatles press conferences.  The writing is constantly connecting subject events to the past - as surgeon Allardyce Stevens tells of fetal twins, explaining that Barry's violent mood swings may have been caused by a third brother living in a tumor in his brain, we recall earlier speculation that the boys' mother was thought to be expecting triplets.  A century of popular British music history is artfully folded into the mix.

The film is visually innovative as well from its settings to its mock photo shoots. Cilla (Anne Lambton), the photographer who pairs them with masked blondes for their first album and whose name immediately recalls 60s songbird Cilla Black, tells us of the anarchy that resulted in art as two sets of faces group and regroup with sexual overtones. There's homoeroticism in 'Pasqua's' stolen scenes of the boys sleeping, illuminated with "Blair Witchian" flashlight, and how he captures them from behind washing until the angrily slam the bathroom door.  Cutaways to two pairs of feet running along rippling sand and out of focus closeups of birds taking flight lend emotional tone and remind of the passing and ethereality of time.

Newcomers Luke and Harry Treadway are as impressive as the music they perform in the film, utterly convincing as conjoined artists.  Support is fine as well, with those playing themselves in both past and present (Harris for example) artfully made up with aging makeup.

"Brothers of the Head" loses some of its momentum in its final act while the Bang Bang implode - a couple of meaningless new characters are brought in to comment and the boys begin to recede too quickly.  We're also never given any outsider perspective, giving the film a hothouse feel which isn't entirely a bad thing. But Fulton and Pepe save one of their best moments for last - a slow zoom of the living twins that stops when one is seen in half profile, covering half of the other's full face, a shot that suggests the "Meet the Beatles" album cover as reimagined by Picasso.  Heady stuff, indeed.

B+
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