The work, adapted from a book by Brian Aldiss, is the first feature from directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton, who previously helmed the well-received actual documentary, Lost in La Mancha . Of course, that is not to say it was simply the comfort of a form they had worked with preciously that drew the two to Brothers' cut-up, narrative style.
Pepe says their decision to make the film in a documentary style was motivated by two main factors, “One, the novel was written as a series of documentary accounts … and we very much like this idea of unreliable narratives all telling these conflicting stories.” The second motivation was to show the process of twins Barry and Tom, developing as characters and as part(s) of a band in a manner more in line with actual rock documentaries, allowing for “a sense of intangible moments that aren't shoehorned into plot points.”
The technique functions as an easy digestive coating for the conjoined twin/rock star premise (which might otherwise be taken as a joke), and allows an interesting entry point into one the film's central themes – exploitation. Watching the naive pair represented in a non-fictional manner as they are basically sold to a music promoter only to enter a weird world of druggie excess and polymorphous sexuality, the audience ends up in the uncomfortable role of exploiter; cringing through the nasty bits of what purports to be a ‘real' story. According to Fulton, it all works to “make the audience feel like a voyeur … we're making an attempt to penetrate these characters that sometimes feels not very savory.”
In order to even attempt such a feat of cinéma vérité , Pepe and Fulton worked to ensure that every last detail and relationship was built in as realistic a manner as possible. To study the cultural milieu they wanted to evoke, the directors immersed themselves in the music of the time, getting a crash course in everything from the New York underbelly with the Velvet Underground to the glam theatrics of T. Rex and early Bowie.
Although scripted by Tony Grisoni ( Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ), actors were allowed to improv, and even given separate direction. “If actors don't know what the other actors are going to do, they have to respond more like real life,” says Pepe.
But for all the nifty narrative trickery, the film's plate-spinning routine would have broken all the fine china if the performance of conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe wasn't believable. Enter actual twins Luke and Harry Treadaway, a jumpy and well-mannered pair of 21-year-olds (aged 19 at the time of filming) who manage not only to create startlingly dark and painfully tender portrayals of the film's protagonists, but to actually perform as the fictional band the Bang Bang in some of the film's most exhilarating scenes.
Harry makes the role sound simple enough, “It's just finding out what inputs they've had in their life, where they've come from, and that was just as important as the physicality.” But – oh, the physicality – learning to walk, talk, and sleep connected in a harness to another person.
The Brothers Treadaway make you feel for the Brothers Howe, and 20 minutes into the movie the difference between vulnerable, self-destructive Barry and quiet, pained Tom are clearer than most twins you've met for that short a time.
Luke Treadaway is equally sanguine, making the work seem like a vacation. He remarks, “So you get to work with your brother, have this incredible challenge of portraying a Siamese twin, and then you get to do it with all this music as well.”
Spoken like a true circus performer.
Brothers of the Head is currently in select theaters.