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Brothers Of The Head (2006)
Directors: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe

review by Paul Higson

Brothers Of The Head has never been off the production slates since Brian Aldiss' graphic novel was published in 1976, several companies and film directors shaking their heads and walking away, chalking it up to experience. Too strange and not enough money around may have been the principal factors, but here it is at long last. It finally fell into the hands of documentary filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who came to prominence on the disastrously colourful coattails of Terry Gilliam and his scratched 'Don Quixote' project in their film of the disintegrating production, Lost In La Mancha (they had previously done The Hamster Factor). Given their area of experience, and that it is the in-thing, it is fitting that the film is presented as a faux documentary, shot in a heady number of video and film formats, interviewing the survivors and evidenced in old footage. Brothers Of The Head is not without entertainment value but the approach has everyone tired, and it is late for anyone to introduce a film in the mock doc style. Neither is it quite successfully pulled off. The footage is at times too clean. Though no-one expected the makers to raid the I-Movie effects to fleck the footage and affect the sound, the faux-1970s material is too fresh and immediate.

Tom and Barry Howe (Harry and Luke Treadaway) are Siamese twins unscrupulously procured by impresario Henry Couling (Ken Bones) to rescue his flagging reputation as a hit maker. The Hilton twins recorded songs and so shall the boys. The twins have no musical background and Barry is particularly insouciant to learning. Their manager, Nick Sidney (Sean Harris), is a mean and vicious little ferret of a man who is quite capable of knocking an education into them and no one is prepared to step in and curtail the blows. The boys do learn but their skills are rudimentary and their vocals rough. What they do have is the anger, the energy and the looks. They are taken into pubs and small venues and the result is the birth of punk. Laura Ashworth (Tania Emery in the 1970s sequences), writing an academic piece on exploitation of those with physical disabilities in the media and the world of entertainment, is admitted into the entourage to write their biography, and becomes involved with the quieter of the two brothers. The conjoined twins might have a third sibling, as Barry sometimes flips into a wilder third and a tumour to the back of his brain is presumed by some to be their very little brother. Alcohol and drugs make short work of the brothers and no sooner have the music industry A&R men walked out of the showcase gig then it is over for them with fatal consequences.

There is much to like about the film but it doesn't have the content to truly impress. Harry and Luke Treadaway are fantastic as the twins. With their tender huddling and comical bickering they are a love story in itself. Two very different characters, were they not in their conjoining set left and right, there is enough of a division of personality that they could be readily told apart. The story is told 30 years later and the casting of the older counterparts is good, though it throws the viewer that Sean Harris is reprising Nick Sidney's older self with only a touch of crow's feet. The concert scenes are rollicking, rabble rousing affairs, the songs and the atmosphere drenching and possessing the viewer. It is a pity that a lot of the power of the concert scenes will be lost on a small screen, which is what previously happened to the impressive Hamburg performances in Ian Softley's Backbeat when it went to television. The music is authentic, written and orchestrated by Clive Langer, with accompaniment from several greats including Pete Shelley, Suggs and Steve Eagles. Anthony Dod Mantel, the director of photography, appearing at a special screening of the film at the Cornerhouse, reported what an amazing recording session it was. The credits are awash with names. That unsung hero of weird and strange British film Tony Grisoni is on the script, and possibly has the longest history with the project (outside of Aldiss naturally). Sarah Monzani is on makeup and hair, her many credits include Franc Roddam's The Bride. Simon Channing Williams produces, and Barbara Ewing plays the doctor diagnosing the tumour. I spoke to Dod Mantel following the screening and had noted Curtis Radcliffe's name in the credits twinning up with Mantel as camera operators. I also brought up Dod Mantel's earlier reported connection to Radcliffe's feature film The Sick House, which has now been completed without Dod Mantel. They are long time friends and Dod Mantel attached his name to The Sick House for as long as was possible before having to move on.

For those unfamiliar with Dod Mantel, he his best known as a digital camera genius who shot Festen, 28 Days Later and Julian Donkey Boy, but film is his preferred medium and his work on Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love and the upcoming The Last King Of Scotland are proof of his skill beyond digital. Dod Mantel has worked with Danny Boyle on four films, including the infectious Strumpet, and with Lars Von Trier on Dogville and Manderley, and with Vinterberg again on Dear Wendy. Brothers Of The Head also called upon the team to recreate scenes from a fictitious Ken Russell film, titled 'Two Way Romeo', about the life of the twins. The film within the film stars Jane Horrocks, Jonathan Pryce and John Simms and, though Ken Russell appears as an interview subject, the reproduction of the Russell style was left to Fulton and Pepe as Russell was recovering from the MRSA bout and neither side saw it important to consult further. The feel is close enough to Russell, though in a Russell film if people are not talking music is soaring. Brothers Of The Head certainly has curiosity value but, giving allowance for its fantasies, it falls short of being true to the documentary structure alighted upon. Perhaps too much was asked for. That initial idea of punk having born out of an entrepreneurial exercise whose participants novelty was more important than their ability was a splendid concept in 1977 and it remains so today. Catch it while it is still in the cinemas if only for the concert scenes.
Brothers of the Head

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