Brothers of the Head (2005)

Based on a non-science fiction but weird novel by Brian Aldiss, this is a mock documentary about siamese twin brothers who are put into a rock band in the 1970s and come to a tragic end. We see extracts from an abandoned Ken Russell film biopic, Two-Way Romeo (with cameos from Jonathan Pryce and Jane Horrocks), interview footage with survivors of the scene who are alternately revealing and evasive about what happened to the brothers, and convincing, supposed verite material shot at the time of the twins' stab at fame. Harry and Luke Treadaway are extraordinary as the conjoined Tom and Barry Howe, who perhaps have a third identity in another unborn foetus inside one of their heads. The brothers seem always to be cuddling or strangling each other, and have distinct, credible personalities: Tom is more sensitive, serious, shy and eager to please, while Barry is aggressive, childishly taunting and in-your-face. They are amazingly believable as a 1970s act, toying with eyeliner and a feather boa a la early glam, while writing lyrics rooted in their rural childhood, then transforming in pub gigs as songs rehearsed in a mellow manner are spat out as proto-punk rants.

The currently overworked mock-doc form is used in a rare, non-comic manner: with very good casting of actors as characters in different decades and smart, suggestive writing. Some crucial moments (including the twins' death) are not caught on film and witnesses give different interpretations of what happened in the tangle of personalities around the twins. Rock journalist Laura Ashworth (Tania Emery in the past, Diana Kent in the present) perhaps becomes the brothers' shared girlfriend but might also have been an unbalancing force, leading to an attempted DIY separation and death. Various showbiz types, from a smug old-time manager (Howard Attfield) through to a bullying, drug-dispensing band-runner (Stephen Eagles) to various other laddish musicians in the group (The Bang-Bang) talk up their own take on the music biz story, which happens around a nearly-covert plotline which focuses more on the brothers' relationship with each other.

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, of the documentary Lost in La Mancha, scripted by Tony Grisoni, of Queen of Hearts and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with another great job of cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle. Even the music is right: it's not too good to come from a gimmick garage band, but the caught-on-film live performance is energetic enough to suggest why they would have caught on. One of the Bang-Bang's numbers is a cover of 'Every Little Moment', signature tune of the Hylton Twins of Freaks, 'another siamese act', and there are a few tiny echoes of Dead Ringers, including a discussion of Chang and Eng.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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