The history of cinema has frequently been seen as an art of duality. Is it a documentary or fiction? Realistic or expressive? Drama or comedy? Unfortunately, many films have become formulaic, refusing to challenge convention or explore new elements organic to the medium.
Temple film and media arts alumni Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, the award winning and widely acclaimed visionary directors of Lost in La Mancha, have sought to create a new cinematic language by blurring the boundaries between genres traditionally seen as dichotomous.
Their new film Brothers of the Head is the story of conjoined twins Barry and Tom Howe and their odyssey to punk rock and roll fame in the 1970s. The journey for acceptance and purpose leads them on a path to superfluous creativity, jealousy, violence, drugs, sex and ultimately tragedy. The film was recently screened at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
Based on the novel by Brian Aldiss, the script is written by Tony Grisoni, who first met the directors during the shooting of Lost in La Mancha.
“The first appeal … was this business of a series of accounts, a series of basically unreliable narrations from different perspectives,” Fulton said.
After much deliberation, the directors finally cast identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway in the lead roles. The film, described as a “Punk Citizen Kane,” delves into the lives of conjoined twins and chronicles their exploration of what Pepe called the “live fast, die young myth.”
The Howe twins were born in 1956 and promptly whisked away to a remote abode on the marshes L’Estrange Head in England. In a parallel shot to that in Citizen Kane, the brothers are seen in the background right while their father signs them away to a music record company in the foreground left. Fulton explains it was the most expensive shot in the movie because the interior and exterior were shot in two different locations and they had to be matched digitally.
At the music company’s recording studio in Humbleden, Tom quickly takes to the guitar, while Barry seems more prone to doing his own thing. The differences in the boys become apparent right from the onset. Tom is placid, good-natured and warm while Barry is a bad boy with attitude and anger.
Tom and Barry form the band The Bang Bang and their signature song, “Two-Way Romeo,” becomes a hit.
Beautiful journalist Laura Ashworth meets the boys to do a piece on the exploitation of the disabled. The brothers make it apparent they have no interest in the article, but do have interest in her. Soon Ashworth becomes intimately involved with Tom sparking adversarial emotions between the brothers. Fame and stardom do not last for long and the experience overwhelms the brothers, resulting in one of the most heart wrenching cinematic scenes of the year. Tom and Barry are complementary forces of each other, struggling to maintain a yin and yang balance between them.
The film’s unique style is not a parody of rock and roll documentaries or a “mockumentary” at all.
“We love films like Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, but we weren’t interested in repeating the ‘mockumentary’ approach,” Fulton said. “‘Mockumentary’ is its own genre. It’s broad comedy, really and it wasn’t appropriate to Brothers of the Head, which is a much darker, more tragic and disturbing story. We wanted to use documentary techniques in a much more rigorous and unsettling way.”
Pepe and Fulton utilized improvisations as part of their directorial style for this film. This method worked viscerally due to the documentary feel of the film.
“We never rehearsed the script, only events before and after scripted scenes so that by the time we actually got to shooting, there’d be a real freshness that suited the documentary feel,” Fulton said. “We did shoot all of the scripted scenes, but would frequently allow the actors to improv the dialogue.”
Another decision made by the directors was to harness the Treadaway twins together with a harness during the course of the shooting. They had to eat, sleep, bathe and function physically harnessed together for the three-month production.
“Psychologically it was quite a work out,” Luke Treadaway said.
John Funk can be reached at email@example.com.