Brothers of the Head (2005)

Kate Williams

This film is laden with creative possibilities, yet suffers from a surfeit of cinematic and artistic clichés.

Brothers of the Head

Display Artist: Keith Fulton and Louie Pepe
Director: Louie Pepe
Cast: Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway, Tom Bower, Bryan Dick, Steven Eagles, Tania Emery, Sean Harris, Will Kemp
Studio: IFC Films
Distributor: IFC
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-11-14

The demarcation point between 'authentic' musical art and outright exploitation of entertainment has always been tenuous. From Michael Jackson and Britney Spears to Ozzy Osborne and Marilyn Manson performers (and their handlers), many performers have intentionally blurred the line between artist and freak. They may not traverse the dusty back roads of county lines on trains or buggies, but today's pop stars differ little from the vaudeville and circus acts of yesteryear.

Simultaneously compelling and disgusting, the freak has always been a source of fascination. It is this inherent tension between the attraction and revulsion of art that lies at the heart of the interesting mockumentary Brothers of the Head. This is a thoroughly fake, albeit cleverly serious documentary about two brothers fused together at the stomach who improbably rise from obscurity to rock stardom.

Brothers of the Head sets out to tell the incredible life story of conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (Harry and Luke Treadway). Living a secluded life with their sister and father in the bleak English countryside, the boys are sold off at the age of 18 to the shady musical promoter Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield). As a former child vaudeville star, Bedderwick is less interested in any musical talent the twins may possess as he is in the limitless exploitation of their unique presence.

Upon completion of the sale, Tom and Barry are removed from their home and installed in the hermetic and indulgent confines of Bedderwick's Oxfordshire estate, Humbleden Hall. It is here where the Howe brothers are put through an intensive rock 'n' roll boot camp and groomed into petulant glam-punk idols.

Kept in line by their abusive manager, Nick Sidney (Sean Harris), and their well-meaning bass player, Paul Day (Bryan Dick), the boys slowly learn to direct their anger, fear, and frustration into their music. Yet, they are always painfully aware that for any competency they may gain musically, they will never be viewed as anything more than freaks.

Their public debut as the newly christened 'Bang Bangs' in a small, dank pub is met with equal parts shock and enthusiasm. From these early concerts Tom and Barry learn to channel the audience's horror into furious displays of manic energy resulting in performances of brilliant and untamed musical excess, which soon earns them a rabid following.

The arrival of Laura Ashworth (Tania Emery), a young female journalist, complicates the relationship between the brothers and their band. She soon falls for Tom, the physically stronger and more emotionally sensitive brother. Necessarily forced to be both observer and participant in his brother's love affair, Barry becomes increasingly indignant and jealous.

Chronicling the development of Tom and Barry's rise to punk stardom is a young American documentary filmmaker, Eddie Pasquar (Tom Bower). Having unlimited access, Eddie is able to glimpse into the daily and intimate struggles of these conjoined twins. From their first tentative guitar lessons to their drug-fueled raucous concerts to their mysterious and untimely deaths-- all is manipulatively captured for posterity.

Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (the talented co-directors of Lost in LaMancha, the fascinating 2002 documentary about filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated quest to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) are competent and adept at distinguishing between the three narrative time frames of the film. The '70s documentary segments are distinctively shot with an aged and grainy immediacy to them. Snippets from Ken Russell's movie within the movie are also characteristically atmospheric and appropriately gothic. And the footage meant to represent the modern day documentary is lensed with a knowing restraint and professionalism. Brother's of the Head, although completely fictional, feels as real and immediate as Fulton and Pepe’s previous non-fiction work.

Luckily for a film about the heady days of English punk rock the music in the film is terrific.

Wonderfully composed by producer Clive Langer and performed by Luke and Harry Treadway the music is by far the strongest aspect of Brothers of the Head. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the filmmakers did not included standalone footage of the concert scenes with the DVD. Instead, supplements on the disc contain only a handful of deleted and uncut scenes from the film. It is also a shame that there is no accompanying commentary or interviews by Harry and Luke Treadway. As identical twins (in real life, although not conjoined) they are in a unique position to remark on the extraordinary bond and innate hostility between the characters of Tom and Barry.

Conceptually, Brothers of the Head is an intriguing and dynamic film. It is laden with creative possibilities about the fundamental conflict between commerce and art, the nature of personal identity, and the dangers of unchecked creative indulgence. However, it suffers from a surfeit of cinematic and artistic clichés and quickly becomes unfocused and tiresome. From the alcohol and drugs to the controlling manager and interfering girlfriend, this is a familiar tale of rock 'n' roll excess.

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