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Brothers of the Head

The film bases its delicious conceit on Brian Aldiss' 1977 novella, a memory piece in which interviewees recall the Howe brothers. Fulton and Pepe likewise create interviews and extant film documents to tell the tale, but the central characters are very much present in the movie, and well-cast newcomers Harry and Luke Treadaway, who are identical twins, bring a sullen, slightly stunned energy to their roles.

The lean adaptation by screenwriter Tony Grisoni ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "In This World") is elliptical and fragmented, a double mystery at its core: the secret place between twins and a singularly bizarre showbiz chapter. The man behind the Howe brothers' career is an unctuous impresario, Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), who buys the boys from their father when they're 18. "He wanted singing Siamese twins, and he wanted them pop," one observer notes.

Zak gets more than he bargained for as the boys fashion a proto-punk band, the Bang Bang. The film unfolds mainly during 1974 and 1975, when the brothers are "groomed" for the spotlight at Bedderwick's run-down country house, a process that involves a good degree of physical abuse from their manager, Nick (Sean Harris). They're joined at the waist and can perform side by side, with the more compliant Tom (Harry Treadaway) taking up the guitar and the more withholding Barry (Luke Treadaway) channeling his volatility into furious vocals, with eye makeup and vodka bottle as accouterments.

The film cleverly uses raw footage from a never-completed documentary by American filmmaker Eddie Pasqua (Tom Bower) to provide glimpses of rehearsals, manic club shows and far more intimate moments. And in a brilliant touch, Ken Russell's abandoned fictional version of the boys' story, dubbed "Two-Way Romeo" after their signature tune, offers a more burnished commentary. In an especially striking sequence, Jonathan Pryce plays an actor playing an attorney who crosses the bogs to the Howes' remote childhood home. Russell appears as himself, one of the film's present-day talking heads, and in a lovely bit of meta-meta-fictionalizing, Bower's Eddie comments on Russell's would-be biopic: Like most such films, he says, it misses the essence of its subject.

Not so "Brothers of the Head," which strikes not a false note and never condescends to spell out its rich ideas about art, exploitation and the mysteries of human connection. The film makes perfectly credible how, with their exultation and primal rage, the Bang Bang inspired other kids even as they wrestled with their own troubled fate. For all its extraordinary elements, essentially this is a familiar rock 'n' roll arc, from the drugs and bad behavior to the woman who complicates the relationship between bandmates.

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle creates the masterful effect of mixed film stocks and vintages, crucial to the haunting tale's immediacy, and Clive Langer's music is the real thing.

Directors: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Screenwriter: Tony Grisoni
Producers: Simon Channing Williams, Gail Egan
Director of photography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Production designer: Jon Henson
Music: Clive Langer
Costume designer: Marianne Agertoft
Editor: Nic Gaster
Cast:
 Tom Howe: Harry Treadaway
 Barry Howe: Luke Treadaway
 Paul Day: Bryan Dick
 Nick Sidney: Sean Harris
 Zak Bedderwick: Howard Attfield
 Himself: Ken Russell
 Eddie Pasqua: Tom Bower
 Laura Ashworth (1970s): Tania Emery
 Laura Ashworth (Present): Diana Kent
 Henry Couling: Jonathan Pryce
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