Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 11:51 pm 
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A band that's really together

Experts can outline for you the elaborate history of rock docs and mock rock docs. Suffice it to say that Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Brothers of the Head goes them all one better with the kinkiness of the fantasy world it creates. It's about Seventies Siamese-twin boys from a remote area in England joined at the lower chest who're taken up by an impresario looking for something special: a musical freak show. Isn't that redundant, in the era of Lou and the Velvet and Ziggy and the New York Dolls? Well, no, because we've never seen a movie about Siamese twins before and we'll never see one about Siamese twin rock stars again. Real twins Harry and Luke Treadaway play Tom and Barry Howe, respectively, with incredible enthusiasm and scary charm. Joining them is a large band of prosthetic conjoining flesh, hidden at first but successively more boldly revealed in public performances when the initial audiences thought them a fake. Probably none of this would work if the two actors didn't look like the healthiest, happiest, prettiest English boys you could imagine. When they do the intimacy and the conflict involved in such a scene, the Treadaways know whereof they speak. The heart of the movie is watching them together in action.

The opening scene shows a lawyer tiptoeing into a damp corner of the northeast English coastline to get the dad of the two boys to sign a contract. This turns out to be a clip from "Two-Way Romeo," an unfinished fictional film about the boys' lives by Ken Russell, who talks about the "project" onscreen. A down-on-his-luck manager, Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), we learn, found the actual twins and had them trained musically to develop a novelty rock band.

Later we alternate between successively creepier cuts from Russell's opus interruptus (in his version one of the boys gets a fetus growing out of his stomach) to the "real," also unfinished, documentary done in the early to mid-Seventies by American filmmaker Eddie Pasqua (Tom Bower) about the boys' shaky beginnings -- they're lodged in a big empty mansion where their rough working class musical manager Spitz (Stephen Eagles) beats Barry, the more obstreperous twin, to keep him in line -- and ultimate rise and hectic meltdown of hysteria, emotional conflict, sex, drugs, and inevitable, obligatory breathless self-destruction.

Later after their talent-less-ness is patiently trained out of them and Tom masters guitar and Barry does lead vocals, they sing together and get so much into the whole performance thing (Roeg's Performance may come to mind--something of the same hothouse surreal sensuality is evoked) along with the high of public appearance-cum-substance abuse, the twins are having a mad, wild good time.. But the more they enjoy themselves -- and this is what undercuts the creepiness: the sense of pure joy of self realization -- the more being forever conjoined becomes both raison-d'être and curse for the pair.

The film's ultimate guilty pleasure is absorbing a sense of the many complex levels of physical and psychic interaction Siamese twins (especially in such an intense lifestyle) would have, which the real twin actors are able to play convincingly: Tom and Barry go from finishing each other's sentences to erotic acts we can only imagine. They eventually become a manic pre-punk pair in a band known as Bang Bang, which plays in successively larger clubs, as the boys graduate from chain smoking to drinking to lines of coke and pills, feverish sex and psychosexual warfare.

An attractive woman, Laura Ashworth (Diana Kent, Tania Emery) comes along to do an academic treatise on the pair as a study of "the exploitation of the handicapped." To quiet her the manager hires her on with the crew and she falls in love with Tom. Once they're part of the music scene all kinds of pleasure come the boys' way along with mood swings, especially from the always unstable Barry, that challenge the power of their togetherness. A surgeon speaks about the unfeasibility of separating the two, especially now they're grown, since they share a single liver and Barry has a congenital heart defect; but later investigation reveals that Laura indeed was looking into the possibility of surgery and contacting this very surgeon, no doubt with a view to having Tom all to herself. She was banished for her pains. A sequence perhaps suggestive of Frank's Cocksucker Blues about the early Stones on tour hints at the obvious point that if one boy of the pair had sex, they both would, and the natural pattern was a polymorphous foursome. There's freaky sex for you. All of which brings back the Seventies as vividly as any almost-real fantasy could.

Kink in this case would especially include that sub-genre of twin fantasies, and this one constantly tickles out thoughts of the queerness of glam rock, (the whole Iggy/Ziggy thing) -- or, as Pepe said at a festival Q&A, "When you strap two good-looking 20-year-olds to each other, a certain subtext starts to emerge." Tom and Barry are perpetually hugging and touching each other because they're conjoined. They're adept at moving together and you even see them running and cavorting on an English lawn.

You can laugh at the genre but with the sleazy-beautiful mock-Seventies images and the twin actors' natural verbal and physical volatility, Fulton and Pepe really pull you into this story, which was drawn from a novel by Brian Aldiss (who is a character played here by James Greene as the author of Kurt Russell's movie) and adapted for the screen by Tony Grisoni.

The images are ably handled by Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot 28 Days Later, Dogville, and Manderlay but gets to play with styles more here, producing footage that combines current talking heads with beautifully faked Seventies-style footage from the presumably unfinished documentary.

This one isn't likely to draw as mainstream a crowd as Fulton and Pepe's previous success, Lost in La Mancha, but it's guaranteed instant cult status. If you like kink, you like the Seventies, and you like proto-punk, Brothers of the Head is the cult mock rock doc for you.

SHOWTIMES (SFIFF, San Francisco)
Sat, Apr 29 / 9:15 / Kabuki / BROT29K
Tue, May 02 / 6:30 / Kabuki / BROT02K

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