Brothers of the Head
2006Director: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Cast: Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway, Ken Russell
he tale of conjoined twins from the UK hinterlands, who are bought by a music producer and then possessed of a live-fast/die-young ‘70s career, Brothers of the Head opens with twenty minutes of establishing whirlwind that demonstrates spot-on use of 21st-century movie tools. The film is adapted from a 1977 novel, which it presents as nonfiction biography; it further invents that young stars Tom and Barry Howe were chronicled in both an aborted documentary and an aborted Ken Russell-helmed biopic. The movie you’re watching will call on text from all aforementioned projects, and will also compile contemporary interviews with all participants. For example, the scene that explains the initial soul-selling is illustrated by voiceover interview with the twins’ sister, played along with an ominous clip from “Ken Russell film” Two-Way Romeo. The movie establishes dexterity to move from real-time drama (the “documentary”) through melodrama (Two-Way Romeo) and right into bygone-era freakshow footage. Such detailed attention is shown in the incidentals of Brothers’ opening sequences that each touch of subplot brings fresh excitement.
After the introduction, directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe playfully throw us deeper into the story than can reasonably be expected of an audience. Use of the “documentary” will be the main storytelling tool, and we are suddenly with the Howes as they endure their pre-planned creative gestation. We get to know them partly through walking-in-the-meadows moodiness that apes classic Zeppelin introspection reels. Barely allowed to crack a smile throughout, actors Luke and Harry Treadaway are great; a scene in which they fist-fight coolly achieves the point that the drama is not in exploitation, but rather in the tension of two sensitive people living in a single body.
Besides its energy, the film also has a pile of relevant pedigree in its corner. Fulton and Pepe made a short on the set of 12 Monkeys and a feature documentary on Terry Gilliam’s (actual) aborted Don Quixote project. The directors appear further to have the on-high blessing of Ken Russell, who appears at length in Brothers. Gilliam and Russell are the shlockier and less self-important uncles of the school (Wes Anderson, David O. Russell et al.) so gleefully dubbed “The American Eccentrics.” “Eccentric,” though, is only one rung up the compliment ladder from “whimsical,” and it barely need be mentioned that there are always looming chasms of preciousness in these movies. The British (in Gilliam’s case, “more British”) practitioners also need to worry about folly and absurdity. That said, Brothers’ ultimate failure is not on any of these counts.
Fame and notoriety find Tom and Barry at their first gig, which the filmmakers have the guts not to show live, but rather to describe through photographs and post-party epithets. One newly inspired fan raves, “if they can do that, then we can do anything”—and, sadly enough, this film has achieved its objective in its first half-hour. From here, we head into a trying-on-wardrobes, the-sky’s-the limit montage, and Fulton and Pepe abruptly throw up their hands. The rest of their movie coasts from obvious plotline to obvious plotline, deeper and deeper into a betrayal of its early energy and inventiveness.
It would be tough to overstate the film’s lopsidedness. Its last hour is guilty of amazing dalliance in stock storylines, crawling across the over-worked territories of crash-and-burn ‘70s music, of faux documentary, and of Siamese twins paradigms. We’re subjected to a love triangle, a descent into drug use, and finally a desire to be physically separated. I couldn’t make it through the Kinnear-Damon conjoined project Stuck on You, but I would be surprised if even it didn’t hit these watermarks. And Brothers’ collapse goes well beyond images and scenes that don’t advance the plot: That early use of diverse storytelling tools falls away completely, and we are shuffled instead between boring concerts, backrooms, and dream montage.
I’m sure Fulton and Pepe will invite comparisons with Gilliam—whose shadow is familiar—and then humbly hope to be considered on their own terms. I’ll push the boundaries, though, and suggest that their failure here mirrors the mentor’s worst moments: All involve unfulfilled or at least unsustained gusto. These directors seem so wrapped up in invention that they are then bored or frustrated by execution.
To be fair, the movie only follows the orders of its source material; the plotlines come directly from the novel. But the directors demonstrate an ability to work without fear from such obstacles, and they could have written their own second and third acts, or found a way to draw more meaning from the novel. The Siamese twin movie Twin Falls Idaho is reasonably winning with staple stories—and only by way of provocative style, which Fulton and Pepe clearly have in spades.
It’s worth noting that Brothers doesn’t give the Howe’s fetal third head its due; though this was only one of many threads to develop, it begs mention of the similarly plotted How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a film far more perverse within far more conventional structural confines. It can be liberating to watch a movie as unbuckled as Fulton and Pepe’s, but there is nothing more frustrating than flashy talents who lose their nerve and give up.
Brothers of the Head is playing in limited release.
By: Jonas Oransky
Published on: 2006-08-17