October 30, 2006

Cornell Cinema

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The “mockumentary” as I have always thought of it has been more of a comical vehicle since Christopher Guest and company debuted with This is Spinal Tap in 1984. However, the new film Brothers of the Head, directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, takes a startling and somewhat refreshing, yet somber tone on the genre.

The main plotline of the film could easily be turned into a hilarious mockery of the 1970s punk rock scene. Tom and Barry Howe (actually played by twins Harry and Luke Treadaway, respectively), are Siamese twins who are brought out of their seclusion by a promoter to form a new punk-rock band with a somewhat weird twist.

Before you turn up your amps to 11 and get ready for a parody, Brothers of the Head makes every effort to appear as though the fictional band Bang Bang did exist and, more importantly, that the story of Tom and Barry is actually quite sad.

Like the twins themselves, there is more to the film than initially meets the eye. We are made to believe that it the documentary is a response to an actual, Ken Russell-produced, “based on a true story” movie that is in production about the legendary twins staring Jonathan Pryce (the two actually do have bit parts in the film-within-a-film).

To further the perception that everything in the movie is authentic, the directors skillfully use “vintage” footage that appears somewhat blurry and grainy at times.

The actors aren’t lip-synching either — the performances are as real as any dive-bar, ear-popping, fist-throwing song set that we would expect from a British punk-rock band from the 1970s. In fact, the only aspect of Brothers of the Head that isn’t real is the two main characters’ very existence.

From the outset, we feel nothing but sympathy for the two brothers, who are exploited first by nature for playing such a cruel genetic trick on them, by their father who sells them away to a promoter in a Citizen Kane-like transaction and by the various band members and groupies that hang around supplying them with copious amounts of booze and drugs. Of course, everything is set up for a monumental self destruction.

Barry, the more volatile of the pair, is seemingly always on the verge of a breakdown. The delicate situation between the two brothers is exacerbated further when Tom begins a relationship with one of the band’s cohorts, Laura (Played by Tania Emery in the 1970s and later by Diana Kent for commentary). Barry, who also seems to have feelings for Laura, cannot help but form an intimate part of a relationship that only mocks his attempts at love.

The film’s final moments are reminiscent of a Doors documentary or Gus Van Sant’s exploration into Nirvana’s final hours, Last Days. The band falls apart, and lives are destroyed. However, the brothers, who almost appear in a catatonic state, can’t have a “falling out” — they are inevitably connected for eternity.

However, all the loneliness and failure is made even more poignant considering the film’s plot had such an innocent, gimmicky outset. Essentially, Brothers of the Head takes the “mock” out of “mockumentary.”

One final aspect of Brothers of the Head that makes it such an effective film is the constant distance maintained between the audience and the main subjects. The brothers are always being filmed whispering to each other. We see their subtle facial reactions, but are constantly left in the dark regarding their true intentions and thoughts. The brothers are an enigma to their fellow band members, lovers and even their own sister. Unlike the pure documentary, Brothers of the Head doesn’t thrive on what it informs us, but in what it forces us to infer.