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Articles

Keith Fulton, Brothers and Others
By Sean Axmaker
November 14, 2006 - 12:57 AM PST


"I was literally drenched in spit during one rehearsal."

You see a real break between people on the film at the time and as they are looking back on it. There is the obvious point, which is that they are not trustworthy.

Right.

But I think more interesting is why they're not trustworthy. They are lying in ways so they can live with themselves, with what they've done. They are just too ashamed to say exactly what happened, what they were feeling, so they create this reality for themselves.

It's one of those situations where it's difficult to find out whose is to blame, you know. Did the twins, kind of, exploit themselves? Did the people around them exploit them? We don't really answer that question. We were talking before about the Nick Sidney character. One of the fun things about this film is we've got a 30-year time span, so all the characters that you see through the verité footage, you see them 30 years later as adults.

The Nick Sidney character was particularly interesting because, as a younger man, he is a bully. He's a very insecure kind of a bully, you know, who overcompensates for his insecurity by bullying everyone around him. But as an adult, you get the sense of a failed man. He seems like a very sad character. He seems extremely nostalgic for that period. All the characters do. We were very interested in how these characters make a history from these songs. They imagine a past as this idyllic thing that can never be recaptured. The novel was infused with that kind of elegiac quality and I hope it comes through the film as well.

Nick becomes a lot more interesting when, over the course of his time in the mansion, he stops being a bully and becomes more protective of them.

Exactly.

And he starts to become aware, much more aware, of everyone else's exploitation, not in terms of how they're stealing from the kids, but basically in the way that they are fucking with them.

Right. You start to question the characters you initially trust more than Nick Sidney. Like Laura Ashworth [the journalist], who starts to seem like a really divisive influence, possibly threatening the twins with separation. And the Paul Day character starts to seem slightly shady as well. There's a party scene where all of a sudden you find Paul making out with Barry. Where did this come from? So he's got his own agenda as well.

In the film you throw out a lot of ideas, a lot of glimpses and suggestions, hints that there is more out there, and a lot of contradictory information from people, that all suggest that all of what we see and hear is true, and yet, all of it is a lie in some way because you can never really get at the truth.

Right. I suppose that technique could be frustrating to some people. I mean, the film is kind of dense with ambiguities and dense with conflicting agendas, but I hope that people would be open to that kind of experience. It's not a conclusive sort of movie. It doesn't come down heavily on answers. Last night [at the audience Q&A] I was talking also about the fact that, to us, at the center of the film was a mystery, characters whose relationship you could never understand. People are always trying to imagine what is it like to be an identical twin or, more extreme, what is it like to be a conjoined twin. I think people are fascinated by thinking, "How can they live that way?" They try to imagine but they'll never know what that experience is like. In this case, Tom and Barry have this incredible creative union as well. They produce pretty extraordinary music, if you have a taste for that kind of music. And how did they come to that? Where did that come from? You can't quite solve that particular mystery either.

We talked a lot while we were making the film about standard biopics and the Ken Russell film [seen in clips] is meant to be a more overblown standard biopic. But the biopic always identifies that moment of genius, you know. In a film like Pollock, you've got to have the scene where, all of a sudden, for the first time, accidentally, Pollock splatters paint on a canvas and, "Eureka!," there it is, that's the Pollock style. But in Brothers Of The Head, we were working against that. You don't see the moment of genius, you don't see the moment of conception. It's off-screen. And that was one of those things that was interesting to us.

There's a real attempt at a messiness and a chaos in all that. You've said that those scenes were essentially improvised or, a least, not rehearsed. There was a script. Can you describe the process?

There was a script, which was an excellent script that everyone was very, very familiar with. The reason we didn't actually rehearse the scenes is because of the documentary technique we were using. We didn't want the scenes to feel rehearsed. We wanted them to have a spontaneity. So we rehearsed... we did lots and lots of rehearsals. Probably in total about 12 weeks of rehearsals with various combinations of actors. And we would rehearse backstories. We would rehearse all kinds of moments around the scene, but never the scenes themselves. When it got time to shoot the scenes on the set, we would block the scenes roughly, we would talk with the actors about the objective of the written scene in the script and there would definitely be a beginning and end to a scene. But we would not necessarily stick to the dialogue because we were trying to get spontaneous moments, and I think the actors had gotten so absorbed in the characters and in the whole world through the rehearsal process that it really worked out on the set.

It's a tricky thing to do. I wouldn't do that with every film, you know. Mike Leigh does a tremendous amount of improvisation, so we kind of borrowed a lot from his way of working. When he gets to set, he never does improvisation. He shoots the script at that point, which is a rational way of going about your work. This was kind of a bold experiment. Hopefully, it pays off. I think it gives you a very real feel.

You were talking last night about your conjoined twin film sub-genres and you missed one. Which one?

Basket Case.

Oh, right, okay, right! I'll add that one. Have you seen Twin Falls Idaho?

Yes. I thought it was interesting in light of what you said about the relationship. They do not show the intimacy of brothers who have lived so close together for their entire lives... and they are, in fact, twin brothers.

The Polish brothers.

They've gone almost to this opposite point to where those boys have learned to isolate themselves in their own little world even though they're connected. The brothers in your film are best friends, the people they've lived with all their lives, and there's an intimacy, there's a sharing that isn't forced, like in Twin Falls Idaho, where they play guitar and the one guy is fretting while the other strums. Of course that's because they share... the shoulder is the connection.

It's an unnatural connection. They only have three legs.

You don't go for anything exaggerated like trying to have one of them play the frets and the other strum.

Well, Nick Sidney tries to achieve that affect. He wants to give them both guitars, which instantly we see just doesn't work. You know, you just made me think of something else when you were talking about the degree of intimacy between the twins in the film. One of the reasons we dwell on that so much is we had often described the novel as... It's done as this series of accounts from all the people like Nick Sidney and Laura Ashworth and the lawyer and these people. They seem very lonely and they seem to find the intimacy between the twins something to envy. It's mysterious; they don't really understand how the relationship works, but it seems like the twins always have each other and these other people seem like kind of lonely half-people. So that was part of why we focus on the intimacy so much. But you focus on it, like, through doorways. You're always feeling like a few steps removed from really being in it.

They have an interesting way of performing for people when they come out into public, when they're brought to that mansion. The barriers they put up are these barriers of being the clown or being this kind of aggressive jester figure, pushing buttons.

Which comes from insecurity. I mean, it always struck me that the best front men of bands are probably deeply insecure people and when they get up on stage they're able to just unleash all this incredible venom and bravado. But I think very often they're very retreating sorts of people. And that was the essence of Barry. In the first few scenes with Barry, he doesn't want to play the guitar, he doesn't want to sing, he doesn't even want to talk. He's just kind of cuddling to the shoulder of his brother all the time. But then all of a sudden, you put him on stage and whoosh, right there.

Even before that, he finds an audience in Nick. He kind of focuses on Nick and he can just whoosh.

In the rehearsals we used to say all the time to Luke - because initially he was a bit reluctant to take on that punk persona in the singing. He was very formal with the way he was singing the songs initially. And we used to tell him: Imagine that it's Nick Sidney out there that he's singing to. "Nick Sidney is prodding you and prod back." I remember, actually, I think I had blocked this out before, but I remember rehearsals with Harry and Luke. They would go so far that in one particular rehearsal, they were starting to spit at me during rehearsal because we were just prodding them so much to get that kind of violent energy, so I was literally drenched in spit during one rehearsal. You know, that gobbing that was a popular pastime in the British punk scene.

And now we know: it began with the Howe Brothers.

Apparently so.

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Index
"You need to penetrate their vulnerabilities, basically, because that's what makes a good documentary drama."
"I was literally drenched in spit during one rehearsal."
"The giants coming at you and you hear Terry Gilliam giggling."

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Sean Axmaker
A film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a DVD columnist for the Internet Movie Database, Sean Axmaker is also a frequent contributor to MSN Entertainment, Amazing Stories, Asian Cult Cinema, Greencine and StaticMultimedia.com. His reviews and essays are featured in the recently released Scarecrow Movie Guide.

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