Glam rock? Check. Conjoined Twins? CheckCheck. I begged the editor to allow me to cover "Brothers of the Head," an Official Selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. The fact that two of my more unusual interests would be together in one place meant that I needed to be there too.
This strange, disturbing, film grabs the mockumentary genre, steals its lunch money, then sends it home crying to its mother. Not necessarily a good thing, as I'm a huge fan of mocks, and a general defender of the bullied. The world would surely be a less enjoyable place were Nigel Tufnel and company not in it. But "Brothers of the Head" certainly adds a new dimension to what is possible within the category.
The film marks the feature debut of directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who co-directed the excellent "Lost in La Mancha." While it's ironic that co-directors would make a movie about conjoined twins, the film itself doesn't reveal any schism, suggesting that the directors got along better than its subjects.
Based on the Brian Aldiss novel of the same name, "Brothers of the Head" is full of anger, depression and unsettling imagery. The Howe twins, Tom and Barry, were raised virtually out of sight of civilization on a spit of land called "L'Estrange Head," then sold to an impresario who intends to turn them into a pop idols. They rebel, and fortunately for them it's 1975, so they can express their frustration and disillusionment through punk. Their band is called "The Bang Bang," and after their first hit "Two Way Romeo," establishes them they're on their way, touring clubs in England, collecting groupies and recording an album.
The brothers, played by real-life identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway, portray the Howes as a pair of pouty-lipped, brooding boys who put a whole new spin on the term "Toxic Twins." They are joined mid-torso and share a liver which they abuse, as they feed themselves and each other copious amounts of booze, cocaine and pills. They're sexy, skinny rockers who pose and mug onstage like a two-headed Mick Jagger.
The humor here is dark, and the viewer really has to troll for it. When Tom, the "good" twin, falls in love with pretty journalist Laura Ashworth, he attempts a bit of a solo career. He composes a gentle ballad for her called "My Friend," while Barry, the "bad" twin slumps dejectedly, his ears covered by headphones. When the song makes it to the stage its title is "My Friend (You C***)" and Barry delivers it as an anguished scream. Tom and Laura's relationship unfolds in a fairly normal fashion, although their lovemaking brings to mind the old joke about the porcupines.
Laura doesn't get so much between them, because she can't really, there's more them between them, as around them, sitting at Tom's feet while Barry glowers. The brothers have tremendous physical altercations, and it's during one hospital visit that an x-ray of Barry's skull shows what may or may not be a fetus in fetu, or undeveloped twin (in this case, a triplet), in the base of his brain. The doctor hypothesizes that this may be the cause of Barry's frequent rages, but the idea is not explored any further.
"Brothers of the Head" is entertaining in a weird way, but one can't help wondering how Aldiss' book would have fared in the hands of a Tim Burton or Peter Jackson.
But while "Brothers of the Head" is indeed a mockumentary, it wasn't represented in the the Professional Amateurs: Mocking the Truth panel held last Saturday. Michael McKean, Lewis Lapham, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban and Ed Helms spoke, moderated by Jim Kelly, the current managing editor of Time.
The fact that there were two mockumentaries in this year's festival "Pittsburgh" and "Brothers of the Head") and the more subversive one wasn't represented on the panel was a real missed opportunity. When Balaban said that the best mockumentaries have a certain "sweetness factor," it would have been terrific to hear what one of the "Brothers of the Head" filmmakers would have had to say about it. The genre is popular, its audience is growing, so it would have been a good idea to have a more diverse group assembled to speak about it.
The panel meandered, as Kelly hadn't prepared questions that would inspire any debate or grand passion from the dais. A group of people agreeing with each other and promoting their upcoming projects (with the exception of Lapham and Helms) makes for neither great entertainment nor intellectual stimulation. It was a missed opportunity for the panelists and for those who paid to see them.