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Brothers Of The Head
February 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Brothers Of The Head
cast: Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway, Sean Harris, Bryan Dick, and Tania Emery

directors: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe

93 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Less a mockumentary than a serious documentary about people and events that never existed, Brothers Of The Head is based upon a 1977 novel by SF giant Brian Aldiss, and tells the story of a pair of conjoined twins who are purchased by a shady impresario (Howard Attfield) for the purposes of making a pop band. Sequestered in a stately home and forced the learn music, the musicians and minders employed by the impresario slowly learn that despite being conjoined, Barry (Luke Treadaway) and Tom (Harry Treadaway) actually have radically different personalities. Initially both shy, Tom is studious and eager to please while Barry is moody, difficult and confrontational. Initially intended as little more than a pop freak show based on the Bay City Rollers, the boys are given a song with saucy lyrics to learn and are packed off with a backing band to a local pub. Faced with an antagonistic crowd mistaking the twins for a gay couple hugging each other, Barry lets his emotions flow out and the band suddenly starts to take shape. An anachronistic (the band supposedly played in 1974) bridge between the cabaret of the early British punk movement and the raw energy and outsider art of the New York proto-punk scene, The Bang Bang (both the name for the band and the nickname given to the tube of skin that joined the twins) soon develop a following. However, as the band starts to find success, the relationship between Barry and Tom begins to break down as Tom falls in love with a journalist and Barry's moods lead to increasingly violent confrontations between the twins. Things come to a head when a concert turns into a riot and Tom makes the most of the chaos to hit Barry with his guitar. Soon the twins disappear only to be found dead on a beach, the circumstances of their death unclear except that Tom had clearly tried to sever the link between himself and his brother.

The film begins with an artfully gothic reconstruction of the moment at which the impresario comes to visit the boys' family in order to buy them. The ultra slick stylised gothic surrealism of the scene is as surprising as is the end of the scene where the footage is revealed to be part of an abortive (and fictional) film about the boys by Ken Russell (Women In Love and Celebrity Big Brother). The film-within-a-film is used throughout Brothers Of The Head as a means of drawing attention to the more bizarre speculations and theories about the twins' lives. A clever idea this not only serves to make the content of the film seem more believable, it also nicely underlines the gritty realism of the film's aesthetics.

Musically, this film is simply astonishing. Composed by Clive Langer (who also did the music for another film, Still Crazy, about 1970s' musicians), the film's soundtrack sizzles with the near psychotic energy of every great gig above a pub you have ever been to. The feedback howls, the vocals are unintelligible and yet the rawness of the guitars and the howling of the vocalist spell it out for you; the place may well smell of sweat and spilled lager but the band are something else. More pensive than The Jam and more savage than The Sex Pistols, the music of The Bang Bang is nothing short of stunning. It practically justifies the price of the DVD on its own.

Heavily composed of staged concert footage and the obligatory music biopic footage of the musicians just sitting around smoking and jamming, the film's narrative revolves around the relationship between Barry and Tom. Aldiss' novel chose to complicate the relationship by positing the existence of a third conjoined head. Little more than a growth on Barry's shoulder, this twin was not present during the boys' formative years but as they reach adulthood, the third head begins to come alive and demand more and more freedom. While the film addresses the possible existence of a third 'twin' (kind of necessary when the film is called Brothers Of The Head), the directors instead choose to veil the exact details of the twins' relationship as well as their inner lives in mystery. While realistic given the faux-documentary format, this lack of psychological depth nonetheless comes dangerously close to sinking the second half of the film as the focus turns from the twins' musical career and to their eventual demise. Fulton and Pepe do not commit themselves to a single interpretation of the second half of the film, preferring instead to leave clues such as a mysterious letter enquiring about separation surgery that could have been sent by Tom's girlfriend or even Barry himself as a way of forcing his brother backs into his arms. Given the slow pace of the film and the prevalence of artful shots of people strumming guitars, this opacity is deeply frustrating and has lead many to proclaim this film empty.

While I do not agree that the film is empty, I will agree that this choice to remain enigmatic is deeply problematic, especially since the film does not exactly fill its running time with plot twists or witty dialogue. However, this minor problem aside, Brothers Of The Head is a fantastically stylish and strange drama that is well worthy of your time and money.

The DVD comes with some film notes and a making of documentary, but they were not included on the review copy so I cannot comment upon them.

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