While it makes sense that Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin would bear certain resemblances to Citizen Kane, it seems unlikely that a movie like Brothers of the Head, an independent faux documentary about conjoined twins turned rock stars, would draw on the same film for inspiration. But early on in the movie there is an homage of sorts to Kane, an allusion that sets up an interesting parallel.
Brothers of the Head tells the tale of conjoined twins under the control of a former vaudeville impresario who has designs on transforming them into rock stars, much as he had previously exploited Siamese twins on the variety stage.
The film is set in 1970s England, just as glam rock was giving way to punk, and is shot in the mockumentary style, complete with handheld cameras, footage made to look aged and archival, and latter-day reflective interviews with the main characters as they look back on their youth.
The reference to Citizen Kane comes early on, and it is jarring to those who recognize it, as at least a handful of viewers at a recent preview screening did, judging by the grunts and gasps that greeted the scene. The shot uses a nearly identical setup to the Welles scene and a distinctive camera movement that clearly mimics the 1941 film, drawing a parallel between the two movies.
In Citizen Kane, the young Charlie Kane is seen playing in the snow. The camera then pulls back through a window to reveal the interior of the family home, where the mother sits down at a table to sign papers turning over custody of her child to a banker as the father stands nearby, protesting to no avail. In Brothers of the Head, the twins are seen outside as the camera pulls back through a window to reveal their father signing over custody of his boys to the impresario as a sister stands by in silence.
The device is employed during a film within a film, an unfinished biopic of the brothers called Two-Way Romeo. Two-Way Romeo is presented throughout as a silly movie, and the reference to Kane is primarily intended as humor, a satirical jab at the aspirations of the film and the pretentiousness of its director. But the use of the reference presents a valid parallel as well, as Brothers of the Head is in many ways a reworking of the basic structure of Citizen Kane. Brothers features a series of interviews with the major players in the lives of Tom and Barry Howe, each trying to delve into the collective mindset of the twins. The story, based on a novel, makes use of many of the near-cliches that always permeate literary tales of twins, but it succeeds in its treatment of them and even at times transcends them, creating a movie that, however flawed, is certainly interesting and ultimately worthwhile.
The most compelling aspects of the film are the performances of the twins, played by Harry and Luke Treadway. The two brothers manage to create a single entity, a unified whole, and a wholly convincing one at that. Their posture, as well as the physical nature of their connection, places them in a near-constant embrace, emphasizing the intense emotional bond between them. As unlikely as it seems, they manage to convey a stage presence that is not only acceptable, but compelling, like Jagger and Richards rolled into one—the strutting, cocky, defiant singer and the brooding, silent guitarist.
Directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe too often resort to shadowy, overwrought impressionism and spend entirely too much time on the duo’s live performances, causing the film to flag at times. But every now and then, something happens that wakes us up—a stirring emotion, a hint of mystery, a surprising plot twist—something that reawakens the drama and mystery.
But even with these flaws, I found myself, hours later, still thinking about the film, even reconsidering my reaction to it. Its air of mystery somehow began to seem more intriguing after the fact and I found myself eager to revisit the film, to see if there was something I missed—to see if, as with Citizen Kane, there were layers of meaning and emotion that were not readily apparent on first viewing. Orson Welles believed that a movie should not reveal all its secrets in a single viewing, that a film should give the audience far more information, far more density and complexity than could possible be digested all at once. Brothers of the Head has something of this quality to it. It may not have been enthralling, but it cast enough of a spell that I found myself wanting to return to it, to take the time and expend the energy to delve deeper into its impressionistic imagery and further explore the lives of its tortured protagonists.
BROTHERS OF THE HEAD
Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe.
Starring Harry Treadway, Luke Treadway, Tom Bower, Bryan Dick, Steven Eagles, Tania Emery, Sean Harris, Nicholas Millard.
90 minutes. Rated R.
Playing at Shattuck Cinemas.