Eye For Film >> Movies >> Brothers Of The Head (2005) Film Review
I’m not quite sure where to begin with this film. It’s the most astonishingly good film I’ve seen at this year’s festival, and in fact in general one of the best films I’ve seen in years. The premise is so odd and yet so inspired; a supposed retrospective documentary on a make-believe band of the 70s called The Bang Bang, a band fronted by a pair of brothers named Tom and Barry Howe, who also happen to be conjoined twins. Signed as a novelty act by an exploitative mogul of the music industry, the faux documentary follows them from a remote area of the English coastline named L’Estrange Head to the world of pop music in the mid 1970s.
Alongside the documentary-style footage, there are interviews and comments by the people involved as they look back on the turbulent lives of the Howe twins. Note-perfect performances by the actors playing the people involved with the boys’ career give the film an incredibly believable feel, as we meet The Bang Bang’s distinctly unpleasant manager who looks away from the camera as he defiantly tries to defend his violent treatment of Barry and Tom, and the bandmate who sighs guiltily and can only shake his head when asked why he stood by and allowed them to be beaten up.
As good as the supporting cast are, it is Harry and Luke Treadaway as Tom and Barry who frankly took my breath away. Every mannerism: every time Barry hides his face moodily in Tom’s shoulder, every time they bend their heads together in heated whispers, every time they walk and move together they never for a moment come across as anything but two people who have been joined at the hip all their lives. It’s astonishing to realise that they’re not.
As well as a fascinating story, the film explores the ways in which, in order to make the documentary, the film-maker was at times incredibly intrusive. Was it right to film the twins as they slept? To secretly record them bathing together? To use recording equipment to listen in on their private, whispered conversations? True, this gives us far more of an insight into the compromises and difficulties involved in sharing every waking moment with your twin than it would have if Tom and Barry’s privacy had been respected, but at the cost of dehumanizing them further than the music industry already has.
The movie is based on a book by Brian Aldiss in which Tom and Barry were not only conjoined but had a third head, dormant but fully formed, situated on Barry’s shoulder. For the film this element was changed to a foetus-in-fetu situation in which a tumour detected in Barry’s skull is suspected to in fact be the remains of the boys’ triplet. This was a wise decision, as it removes some of the monstrous aspect of the twins and leaves the movie free to examine the nature of personal identity, privacy, exploitation and society’s obsession with the new and unusual.
I’m going to go mad and give this film five out of five, not because it’s perfect, but because it makes up for its flaws with its energy and magnetism and imagination. Much like the Howe twins themselves.Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006