I’ve never seen a movie quite like “Brothers of the Head.” It’s a documentary about a pair of conjoined twins who were plucked from obscurity in 1974 and made into rock stars. Over the course of their short-lived fame, indie filmmaker Ken Russell cast them in a movie called “Two Way Romeo,” and “Brothers of the Head” includes clips from it, with Russell on hand to introduce them.
Except that it’s all fiction. There were never any Siamese-twin rock stars, much less ones that Ken Russell cast in a film. The “Two Way Romeo” clips are fake, and Russell is playing along with the joke.
This is a mock-rockumentary, then, based on a Brian Aldiss novel and directed by the team of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. That duo’s previous film is “Lost in La Mancha,” an actual documentary about Terry Gilliam’s failed attempts to make a film about Don Quixote. The co-writer of Gilliam’s Don Quixote movie was Tony Grisoni, whom Fulton and Pepe tapped to adapt the Aldiss novel to make “Brothers of the Head.” So it all comes full circle, you see.
All this behind-the-scenes information gives the film some context, but it’s possible to enjoy it based only on what’s on the screen. It’s not a comedy, exactly, though it has laughs. It’s more an off-kilter exercise in uniqueness, like someone said, “Here’s a weird story. Let’s tell it in a weird way.”
Tom and Barry Howe (real-life non-conjoined twins Harry and Luke Treadaway) are in high school when an impresario named Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), a former vaudevillian himself, discovers them and decides they should be the centerpieces of a punk band. The boys live in an obscure, marshy part of eastern England, with Tom (on the observer’s left) the stronger twin and Barry slightly weaker, slightly moodier. In a moment right out of “Citizen Kane” (thanks to my colleague Shawn Levy for pointing it out), the twins are signed over to a lawyer by their father while they play innocently in the background.
The lads are taught how to front a rock band, with Tom on guitar and Barry on screaming vocals, and soon a group called The Bang Bang is formed, sort of, and thrust upon the unsuspecting British public. Just as quickly, Tom and Barry grow accustomed to the heady world of rock stardom, complete with a girlfriend for Tom (Tania Emery) who, Yoko-style, wants to split up the band. Literally.
We see all of this in modern-day interviews with the participants, in footage shot at the time on grainy home-movie cameras, and in clips from that never-released Ken Russell movie (which seems more and more bizarre and pretentious every time it pops up). Fulton and Pepe, and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, have done a fantastic job with the different “looks” for the film: the current stuff, the old footage, and the Russell film all look the way they should. The period costumes, hairdos and dialogue jibe, too.
There is the sense that Zak Bedderwick sought to exploit the boys in more ways than one, and that their abusive manager, Nick (Sean Harris), was up to no good, too. It’s ultimately a tragic story, really, almost a cautionary tale, but not one that we’re meant to take seriously. I mean, it’s about Siamese-twin rock stars. How can you not smile the whole way through?
B (1 hr., 30 min.; )