Friday, August 25, 2006

Melville's Bad Memories

Army of Shadows / L'Armée des ombres
(Jean-Pierre Melville, France, 1969, 35mm, 145 mins.)

army of shadows 2.gif

"Bad memories! I welcome you are my long-lost youth."
-- Georges Courteline quote which opens Army of Shadows


Though I caught a screening almost a month ago, I've been putting off posting
a review. In fact, I was thinking about taking a pass altogether...until guilt got
the best of me. Just as it's possible to be intimidated by a person, it's possible
to be intimidated by a film -- and the reputation of its maker. I love Jean-Pierre Melville. I love this movie. There's no way I can do it justice.

I'm not alone. Author Rui Nogueira (Melville on Melville) proclaims Army of Shadows
"a masterpiece." He's joined by Manohla Dargis (The New York Times), Stephanie Zacharek (Salon), and numerous others. As such, I wouldn't want to oversell it.

After all, the film doesn't move as quickly as Melville's Le Doulos (1962), nor is it
as stylish as Le Samouraï (1967). Plus, it's even longer than the uncut Le Cercle Rouge (1970). Heck, it isn't even a gangster film. Or a war film. It's a Resistance film. Based on the 1943 novel by Joseph Kessel (best known for Belle de Jour), Melville also draws on his own Free French experience. Sure, it still looks and feels like his work, but it packs more of an emotional punch -- no make that a whallop -- than usual.

Never before released in the US, this beautifully restored version is meant to
be experienced on the big screen. The restoration was personally supervised
by César-winning cinematographer Pierre Lhomme (The Mother and the Whore,
Camille Claudel). Nonethless, some may be waiting for the inevitable DVD release.
If you have any interest in this film or this filmmaker, you really shouldn't.
In purely visual terms, Army of Shadows is Melville's darkest film. Most scenes take place at night, at dusk, and at dawn. Further, the palette consists primarily of deep blues and steely greys. Unless you're blessed with a theater-sized television screen, you'll miss crucial details. And Melville is nothing if not a detail-oriented filmmaker.
In fact, I hadn't made the connection until I read Sean Axmaker's GreenCine
review, but he was probably a big influence on the meticulous Mr. Michael Mann, whose Miami Vice is one of the year's other big dark-palette pictures. Then again,
if Mann doesn't consider Melville an influence, I would still describe him as one of
the French helmer's spiritual heirs. Both care deeply about men and their work.
And Army of Shadows, like most Melville films, is very much about men and their work. That said, there's one woman who's part of Lino Ventura's crew and that's quick-change artist Mathilde (Simone Signoret). She's just as tough as the guys,
the rest of whom are portrayed by Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier, Paul Meurisse (Diabolique's unfortunate husband), and Jean-Pierre Cassel (father
of actor Vincent "La Haine" Cassel). She's also a little more sentimental and, yes, she'll pay for that. But it isn't presented as a feminine quality -- just a quality. (Signoret's significant other, Yves Montand, was part of Le Circle Rouge's esteemed ensemble, while Ventura previously starred in Melville's Le Deuxième Souffle.)
Instead of describing the plot, which was inspired by actual events, I'll leave it
for viewers to discover on their own. I'll just note that the complex storyline continues
in the suspenseful, surprising vein of Le Cercle Rouge, while prefiguring Fred Zinneman's Day of the Jackal (1973), which I finally caught up with a few months ago. Just imagine several Jackals. Several (mostly) sympathetic Jackals. All dressed in thick overcoats and gunning for the Nazis occupying France circa 1942. In the dark.
Army of Shadows opened in Seattle on August 11th. As with most other repertory films, I figured it would be gone within the week, but two more have passed since then, so it must be attracting an audience. I'm thrilled about that as this is one
of the cinematic events of the year. It may not be perfect, which is to say the film does have its...longeurs, but the way the disparate threads come together at the
end is downright breathtaking (plus, I don't believe there's such a thing as a "perfect" film). Believe the hype: Army of Shadows is, indeed, a masterpiece.
Jean Seberg: What is your greatest ambition in life?"
Jean-Pierre Melville: To become immortal...and then die.
-- From Breathless (1960)
Rialto Pictures will re-release Le Doulos next year. They plan to follow up with
Leon Morin, Prêtre (1961), also with Jean-Paul Belmondo. Army of Shadows completes the wartime trilogy Melville began with Le Silence de La Mer (1947), which is not available on DVD, and Leon Morin. The film is currently playing at the Harvard Exit (807 East Roy). For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

As The Sparrow Flies

Sparrows (1926)
Monday August 21, 7:00pm The Paramount, Seattle
Mary Pickford with her cameraman Charles Rosher and director William Beaudine during the production of Sparrows.
This photo is from The Mary Pickford Institute's collection available for viewing at

Marshall Neilan, Mary Pickford's favorite director, wrote an essay called "Acting For The Screen: Six Great Essentials" (available in the sadly out-of-print book, Richard Koszarski's Hollywood Directors 1914-1940). In it he opines that there are six essential qualities for great screen acting and not a single actress will possess all six. Instead the great silver screen divas possess one of those qualities to the nth degree.

The six qualities are beauty, personality, charm, temperament, style and the ability to wear clothes. (If you think the last one is trite, I have two words for you, Marlene Dietrich.) He then went on to cite an actress who exemplified each quality. For personality he chose Mary Pickford. "You just need to recall one of her radiant smiles, one of her delightful impersonations, or one of her raggedy roles in which her natural personal charm was almost obscured in the intensity of her characterization, to realize that you love Mary Pickford, first, last and always, because she is Mary Pickford. She has something irrespective of looks or age or anything else, will live on. She has personality.
I think the reason why a Mary Pickford film (as with a Bogart film) still plays well with a modern audience, is precisely because of her personality. (Further buttressed by her use of a subtle naturalistic style of acting she developed, when she realized that the screen magnified every gesture, and, so, the traditional broader style of acting that belonged to the theater didn't belong on the screen.) She convincingly plays likeable working class women, or girls or even boys, who challenge authority with courage, wit and determination. She is so convincing in those roles because that is who she was off camera too.
Mary was born into an impoverished Canadian family. After her father died when she was seven, she took over the role as the family breadwinner by becoming a stage actress. She started her film career in 1909 as a stopgap measure between Broadway shows. She worked as an actress and writer for the great D. W. Griffith, but did return to the theater. Eventually, however, she decided to dedicate her efforts to the film medium and became the most powerful woman ever to grace Hollywood. Not only was she the first movie star, she also demanded and received a salary and autonomy that rivals modern film stars. She also co-founded United Artists, with husband Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, to produce and distribute all four artist's films.
Like a character in one of her films, Mary went from rags to riches. She began as the impoverished daughter of an alcoholic father and self-sacrificing mother, and became one of the richest, most famous and beloved women of her time, married to her equally glamorous and successful actor husband, Douglas Fairbanks. A film would end there, but real life goes on and so did Mary's. She retired from acting after the advent of sound, due to artistic frustration (her audiences wanted her to keep playing the scrappy child-heroine) and personal heartbreak, the loss of her beloved mother, brother and sister as well as the heart rending break up of her marriage to Doug. Tragically, Mary succumbed to the family curse, a proclivity towards alcoholism and became a recluse doted on by her second husband, Buddy Rogers.
If you are interested in reading more on Mary Pickford I highly recommend Eileen Whitfield's Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood
For more information on Pickford's acting style, a review of Sparrows and more information on the beautiful print being screened at The Paramount read David Jeffers' article at

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Twin Infinitive: Part Four

A Chat with Keith Fulton

"They were too close. They were always a crowd.
They grew together like two trees growing where only one should be,
branches hopelessly intertwined, distorting each other."
-- Brian Aldiss, Brothers of the Head (1977)

[brothers of the head]
21-year-old twins Harry and Luke Treadaway

On Twins and Homo-eroticism

Click here for part three

Fennessy: In the press notes, you say, 'I think most films about conjoined twins either play up their freakishness or go straight for the slapstick element,' with which I agree, and I thought you did a wonderful job at staying away from that. I didn't think the two characters were ever an object And I'm wondering if you can think of any films that do that--that aren't necessarily like Brothers of the Head--but that have characters that are like that, but that aren't making fun of them. The only one I can think of, off-hand, is Dead Ringers. They're not conjoined, but they are never, ever figures of fun. In fact, it's the opposite...

Fulton: It's terror. [laughs]

Fennessy: Yeah, it's the opposite of your film.
I mean, it's [David] Cronenberg--it's a little scary.

Dead Ringers (1988)

Fulton: Probably when we started this project, we could see treating the characters with less respect initially--because it's such an absurd concept--so we were kind of into the absurdity of the concept, you know: Siamese twin punk band. Sounds funny. But I think as soon as we started to do research about conjoined twins, particularly--I don't know if you've ever heard of the Schappell sisters...

Fennessy: No, you mentioned them in the notes.

Fulton: It's such a touching story, because those are women joined at the head, who have no hope of ever being separated. Surgery would not be possible, because they share parts of the brain. The way that they've come to terms with the way they live and the way that they've come to terms with the fact that people look at them like they're hideous freaks--they've had to kind of accept that and find some way to fight it. So, I think we got into it on a very emotional level. We weren't just looking at it as, 'Funny--conjoined twins. Must be hard to live that way.' We were trying to understand more what that experience must be like. Lou and I, my filmmaking partner, always talk about the fact that our working relationship is not so different, sometimes, than being joined at the hip. We live together also, so we have a pretty intimate relationship, and it's really difficult...

Fennessy: And you're working with twins.

Fulton: And we're working with twins, real twins.
There's all this doubling going on--quadrupling. [laughs]

Fennessy: Which I didn't know when I was watching the film, because to me--at first--I wasn't totally sure who was who. And then you get into the story, and then they started to... I didn't think they were identical twins, actually--I knew they were brothers, you could tell that right away--but I didn't think they were twins. I thought they looked different enough...

Fulton: We were heightening that a great deal, because at the very beginning they look a lot more alike. But this is the experience of meeting them also. When Lou and I first auditioned them, we found it difficult to tell them apart, and many people will mistake one for the other, but knowing them as well as I do now, I would never confuse the two of them. They don't actually look identical--but they are.

Fennessy: I read up on their background. They've got the same--they haven't been in the same plays--but they're in the same drama school, with the same teachers, and theirs do look like identical careers, but not all movies are going to be for've also said that that was initially a drawback to them.

[The Treadaways were concerned about being typecast.]

Fulton: Yeah, it's both. It's a drawback to them--and the fact that
they had to be strapped to each other for as much as they were!

Fennessy: They had to be touching each other, too.

Fulton: All the time!

Fennessy: Which is a big part of the movie. Because of the way
they're conjoined, their arms are constantly around each other.

Fulton: Thank God they were at least somewhat ac-
customed to physical intimacy because they're brothers.

[brothers of the head]
The Bang-Bang in action (Tom getting more aggressive)

Fennessy: You don't often see two guys touching each other
that much [in a non-sexual manner]. That right there is unusual.

Fulton: You know what cracks me up all the time is--because Lou and I are gay--people are always saying: You put so much homo-eroticism into the movie. It's a movie about conjoined twins, you know--who are male!

Fennessy: There's very little.

Fulton: Well no, actually, there's a us.

Fennessy: The only obvious things--and they're small things--are, like when they kiss each other during the photo shoot, which to me wasn't about two guys kissing each other, it was about two brothers kissing each other...

Fulton: It was also just a fuck you. It was more like:
You wanna look at us--we'll give you something to look at.

Fennessy: And that was what you would do in that time--the time prior to Johnny Rotten. He was part of a more homophobic era that came immediately afterwards where you wouldn't do that, but also he [Barry] kisses the bass player. Was that a way of saying, 'That was just what people did then,' or was it a hint that that character could be gay?

Fulton: I think it's unlikely with identical twins that one is gay and one is straight.

Fennessy: I have a friend...he's straight
and his twin--his fraternal twin--is gay.

Fulton: Really? That's interesting. That wasn't the intent. It was more that Paul Day [Bryan Dick] is meant to be gay, but it's not really something that's ever discussed in the film. We told the actor: You're gay and you have this thing for Barry.

Fennessy: I like that it's subtle.

Fulton: He's very protective of Barry. It doesn't come out until that scene. They're all really fucked up and it's a party... Barry isn't meant to be gay. He's just meant to be kind of lonely: If someone wants to kiss me--I'll kiss them! [laughs]

[brothers of the head]
The Bang-Bang--after another beating from manager Nick Sidney

Keith Fulton and I continued to chat for another 10-15 minutes or so, but this seemed like a good point at which to draw things to a close. Here are the four films Fulton and Pepe made prior to Brothers of the Head. All descriptions from the press notes:

Malkovich's Mail (2003)
An original television documentary for AMC about aspiring screenwriters from across the US and the bizarre pitch letters they send to actor John Malkovich and his production company.

Lost in La Mancha (2001)
A documentary about Terry Gilliam's decade-long attempt to mount a film production of Don Quixote, and the first verité chronicle of the collapse of a major motion picture.

Moments of Doubt (1998)
(Written and directed by Pepe; produced by Fulton.) A collection of three shorts that explore [fictional] characters in crises of self-doubt.

The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys (1996)
An intimate portrait of director Terry Gilliam and a glimpse at the strange marriage of art and commerce in Hollywood filmmaking.

For more on Brothers of the Head,
click here. For more Fulton, click here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Twin Infinitive: Part Three

A Chat with Keith Fulton


"The whole ethos of pop is classless working-class. It's
naïve and uncritical and inarticulate. Nobody knows what
they are doing but sometimes they feel what they are doing."

-- Brian Aldiss, Brothers of the Head (1977)

Part Three: On the Music, the Screenplay, and the Cinematography

Click here for part two

Fennessy: Having just read descriptions of the film, I did think they [the Bang-Bang] were gonna go farther. Yet, at the same time, it seems to me that the timing of the film is interesting, because that's what's happening right now. Like I just bought a collection of the works of the Delta 5, and they're from that era--actually slightly past--but they didn't release a record, and they had this reputation based on one single, "Mind Your Own Business." The compilation is Peel Sessions and other singles...the Delta 5 were in with [bands like] the Slits and the Raincoats.

[The Bang-Bang released one single, "Two-Way Romeo." It's also the
name of the film the quasi-fictional Ken Russell tries to make about them.]

Fulton: I've never heard of the Delta 5--the Slits I've heard of.

Fennessy: They were that kind of thing, but not as in-your-face. Now because of the CD format, more of those groups that did just have one song are getting entire compilations with live tracks and Peel Sessions. I'm sure you didn't plan that, but...

Fulton: There's definitely a huge revival. It was already going on at the time that we were developing the film. We designed the music in the film--well, the choice of punk, period--we were already conscious of the fact that people are listening to music like that many of the bands now have that kind of sound.

Fennessy: I thought it sounded really contemporary and of its time.

Fulton: That's by design. The composer, Clive Langer
[Madness, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, etc.]
, we talk-
ed to him about giving the music a slightly poppier edge than
pure punk would have--make it more listenable. [laughs]

Fennessy: I thought it was very listenable.

The New York Dolls

Fulton: In a way, it was more interesting to choose 1974 as a time for the band to be from than 1976. I mean, the Sex Pistols, to me, are more of a phenomenon. You don't go home and listen to them, but if you're imagining something that's coming out of the glam scene and getting a harder edge to it, that's sort of the music we were trying to pinpoint.

Fennessy: The New York Dolls--but in England.

Fulton: In England, right. And there wasn't really an equivalent in England in 1974.

Fennessy: No, because it had to come from America, and there are all those theories--and I've also read Please Kill Me--that it kind of started in England...

Fulton: I love that book.

Fennessy: It's great. So, it would go to England to New York back to England and just back and forth. The book is really good at making that connection clear, how impacted everyone was by the New York Dolls coming to England.

Fulton: Right. That was a huge research tool for us in developing the film.

Fennessy: The structure, too--the oral history--must have made that a particularly good way of looking at things for you guys.

Fulton: Which comes from the book [Brothers of the Head]. The book is done as an oral history, as well. In the book, strangely, the twins are not really characters, they're only really talked about, so in making the film we made them much more present than they were in the book. But one of the interesting things about the book was that it is a series of oral histories--kind of unreliable oral histories. That was one of the things that intrigued us about the novel more than anything else, because you didn't really trust the people telling the story. They all had agendas.

Fennessy: In the press notes, you say you also made the characters more evenly represented. Whereas in the book, is it more Barry? One of them is more prominent.

Fulton: Well, in the novella, Tom is really the quiet one, you know--the one who wants to be normal. No, I think they're probably as similarly represented in the book as in the movie. What we did differently in the film is that the character of Tom gains more precedence as the film goes on and he goes through quite a radical transformation. He stops being the quiet, more normal one and starts getting more aggressive, so that wasn't really in the novel. Half of it is good to read, half of it is sort of just lyrics--a lot of psychedelic song lyrics. [laughs]

Fennessy: That's a problem. I'm on a lot of music lists, and that's something that gets criticized a lot--when authors get into lyric-writing. It's a bit problematic.

Fulton: Right.

I walk left, I walk right,
I waste no sleeping on the night--
It's two by two, the light the dark
Just like animals in the Ark
Because I'll tell ya
Tell ya
I'm a Two-Way Romeo.

-- From "Two-Way Romeo"

Fennessy: So, the look of the film. A lot of reviews have compared it to Performance, not just in terms of the look, but the milieu. It seems like Anthony Dod Mantle got that look, that sort of retro--it's not psychedelic--but sort of saturated colors...

Fulton: It's a look modeled after the look of American cinéma vérité documentaries, which is something that Lou and I had studied a lot when we were at Temple University in our MFA program. It's just grainy film that wasn't as light sensitive as stocks that you have now, so that's where that rough graininess comes from. It was always 16 mm. We shot the film on Super 16. We shot it in a way--the stocks were pushed--so you're bringing up the grain. The grain was desirable. There's also a lot of black in the film--heavy, crushed, dense blacks--which is actually not something you saw so much in those films. That was something we added to the look.

Fennessy: Do you mean more of the dream-type sequences?

Fulton: In those and also in the pseudo-vérité stuff.

Fennessy: The stuff shot by the documentarian.

[There's a film-within-the-film as well as a documentary-within-the-film.]

Fulton: There's a lot more black than you would see in films generally.

Fennessy: At least I could see everything! That frus-
trates me, like did you ever see julien donkey-boy?

Fulton: Yes, I have.

Fennessy: That's a film where--and I'm sure
this was intentional--it was hard for me to see what
was going on. There was so much black in that.

Fulton: Anthony shot that film, too.

Fennessy: I was thinking that might have been him...

Fulton: He does all the black films. [laughs]

Fennessy: I'm not necessarily criticizing it...

Fulton: God, that's a disturbing movie.

Fennessy: It is. And it's funny because I haven't seen, other than Kids, anything else Harmony Korine's been involved with, and I didn't like it--but I loved Werner Herzog. He's in the new Korine film [Mister Lonely]. He was just in town and mentioned that. Was there a particular Anthony Dod Mantle film you were thinking of...?

Fulton: He did Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration. He shot Dogville.

Fennessy: So he's probably shot other Lars Von Trier films.

Fulton: He shot a couple of Lars Von Trier films and he shot 28 Days Later.

Fennessy: That's what I was thinking of; it had some of the look of 28 Days Later.

Fulton: He's actually a friend of a filmmaker friend of ours in Copenhagen. Anthony is based in Copenhagen, although he's British, so I met him through this connection, and he was really ideal for shooting something that was documentary style, because his Dogme films were done very much documentary style.

Fennessy: Some of it's almost surrealistic, like the opening and the closing.

Fulton: The Ken Russell film?

Fennessy: Yes.

Fulton: The film has like five or six different styles going on in it. Anthony used to carry around this crib sheet that--we had the five elements of the film written on it. He would often ask us, 'Which texture are we shooting today?'

Fennessy: They're not jarring, though.

Fulton: Jarring? I hope they are jarring.

Fennessy: I thought they kind of went together, but I could tell the differences between things. Like, there's more jarring stuff in 24 Hour Party People, where you're going between the scene where Tony Wilson is out in the field and where they're all watching the Sex Pistols. To me that particular film, which was doing some of the things you're talking about, was more jarring. And I'm not saying that's better or worse--it's just a little tougher on the eyes. It also had flashing credits!

Fulton: That film is less well shot, I would say. That was not Anthony.

Fennessy: I didn't think it was him, but it seemed like there was a connection. It was Robby Müller [Paris, Texas, et al.], but it's him going a little crazier than normal.

[Both films also feature Sean Harris.]

Fulton: Is that handwriting, by the way?

[He's referring to my notes.]

Fennessy: It is, because I don't have access to a printer.

Fulton: That's phenomenal, it's totally phenomenal.

Fennessy: Isn't it bizarre?

Fulton: That is really cool.

Fennessy: Thank you. [laughs in embarrassment]

Fulton: It looks like one of those computer fonts that is meant to look like someone's handwriting--it's that neat.

Fennessy: I had a friend freak out on this--and it's never seemed
strange to me--so I said, 'Here,' and I gave him a sheet of some notes.
I was like, 'I don't know what you're going to do with this, but enjoy!'

Steve Coogan and Shirley Henderson before
the Pistols gig in
24 Hour Party People (2002)


Reminder: Brothers of the Head opens today at the Varsity Theater (4329 University Avenue NE). For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755.


Next up: On Twins (of all Kinds) and Homoeroticism

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

The Descent

The Descent.jpg

Imagine 6 women stuck in a pitch black labyrinth of caves and narrow passages leading to claustrophobia, hallucinations, and pure terror. Add in some major conflicts and a few snapped psyches and it all equals one thing: wherever you think this movie is going to take you, you're wrong.

Director Neil Marshall (whose film Dog Soldiers is one of the most original werewolf features I've ever seen) creates a stunning vision not only with atmosphere and special effects, but also with a group of stunningly beautiful and strong women. Shauna McDonald and Natalie Jackson Mendoza are some of the best horror movie heroines I've ever seen, and they make the story believable and suspenseful.
But enough gushing about the ladies (except - how cool is it that the film is made up entirely of women, except for the brief opening sequence?). The bottom line is that in the world of horror movies, genuine surprises are very hard to come by. And for almost the entire 99 minutes this ran, I was honestly on-the-edge-of-my-seat, clutching-my-friend's-arm, biting-the"nside-of-my-palm, jittery, breathing-hard-scared.
Part extreme sports action-adventure (and if I didn't think those extreme sports people were insane before, I sure as hell do now), part psychological thriller, and part creepiness in the dark -- The Descent shocks you from the very beginning, takes a small break to set up the characters, and then from almost the second the girls slide down those ropes into the dark, it's non-stop suspense, drama, and more shock.
I have not been this thoroughly entertained by a horror movie in years -- and I have seen a LOT of scary movies. In this case, I absolutely recommend you believe all the hype you've been hearing. I was skeptical, but came out of it totally blown away and agreeing with everyone else that this is the scariest movie to come out in a long, long, long time.
A note for the not-so-hardcore horror lovers: My movie companion's hands were pretty much glued to her face for most of the film because eventually it dives into some pretty disgusting gore (complete with lots of splatter and viscera), and it doesn't stop from then until the very end. Not for the squeamish!

Twin Infinitive: Part Two

A Chat With Keith Fulton

"The bleakest point along this stretch of coast is arguably L'Estrange Head, a natural feature lying between the summer resorts of Hunstanton and Sheringham."
--Brian Aldiss, Brothers of the Head (1977)

On the Author, the Illustrator, and the Location

Click here for part one

Fennessy: Were you familiar with Brian Aldiss before Tony Grisoni wrote this script?

Fulton: Actually, I wasn't, no. Tony mentioned the book to me and Lou, because the three of us wanted to do a project together, and Tony had tried to option it, I think like 20 years ago. He got a free option on it, but wasn't ever able to do anything with it. The script, by the way, wasn't written when this project was financed.

Fennessy: Tony just had the idea in mind?

Fulton: Tony, Lou, and I went around pitching it and actually got the financing based on a pitch, which is a hard thing to do.

Fennessy: I didn't realize that. I thought that some version of it had existed... Does that mean that Tony, because he's the only one with a screenwriting credit--

Fulton: Yes, he is.

Fennessy: But was he affected by things that you and Lou said?

Fulton: Yeah, the three of us developed it together. I mean, the first thing we did together before Tony had even started writing was we took a trip to Norfolk to this town called Blakeny--which is where the twins are meant to have come from--and we stayed at a little house there that Tony had rented, a vacation house. And we just took long drives and walks around this area and just got all kinds of inspiration for the story, like we chose the house that the twins grew up in.


Fennessy: The house is great. Are the interiors--were those sets?

Fulton: No, it was actually shot in the house, which is a very hard place to get to, because when we were up there--anywhere we would walk--we would see this house looming on the horizon and we were just dying to figure out how you would get to it, but we had to find somebody who had a boat. The few times a day that you can get out there are the two high tides a day.

Fennessy: So all your equipment came to the house in a boat?

Fulton: Yeah, in boats. [laughs]

Fennessy: My God.

Fulton: It was ridiculous, actually. We got stuck out there...

Fennessy: I went to Amazon to see if the book was in print. I was glad to see it was.

Fulton: In print? But it's only in print in England, right?

Fennessy: Amazon is listing it, but I should have looked more closely to see the details. If it's not in print, maybe people were selling used copies--very few.

[Just to confirm, it's in print.]

Fulton: Used copies are very hard to find these days.

[I think he's referring to the illustrated edition.]

Fennessy: Interesting.

Fulton: We bought them all up.

Fennessy: Did you, really? Is it going to come back, if it's really out of print?

Fulton: IFC is trying to make some kind of deal to get the book back.

[Doesn't look like this has happened yet.]

Fennessy: I want to read it, especially with the description of it as a novella with illustrations--that caught my attention. It's not a graphic novel?

Fulton: It's not a graphic novel in today's definition of the term, but it's got really great illustrations. Ian Pollock was the illustrator.

Fennessy: The name sounds familiar.

Fulton: He's done a lot of stuff. He did a graphic novel of King
, which is pretty well known. [He's] a really good illustrator.

Fennessy: It's interesting that it [Brothers of the
] is from 1977. So he [Aldiss] really was, I'm as-
suming, kind of looking at the punk scene in England...

Fulton: Nope.

Fennessy: No? Isn't punk in the book?

Fulton: No, in the book it doesn't specify the type of music.

Fennessy: You say in the press notes that it was more like Led Zeppelin.

Fulton: Yeah.

Fennessy: That's pretty different. In the book, if they're more hard rock, does that mean they were reaching bigger audiences than what we see in the movie?

Fulton: In the book they were meant to become quite famous, whereas we thought it would be more interesting if they never quite broke. You know, they were just at the moment where they were maybe gonna go somewhere and then it all comes crashing down. We wanted to make the tragedy as painful as possible. [laughs]


Next up: On the Music, the Screenplay, and the Cinematography

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Twin Infinitive: A Chat with Keith Fulton

"Even in the grotesque annals of the pop industry, the Bang-Bang provided one of those fabulous stories which appeared too good to be true.
Certainly it was too good to last."
-- Brian Aldiss, Brothers of the Head (1977)

Tom and Barry Howe, the Bang-Bang
(Harry and Luke Treadaway)

Keith Fulton and filmmaking partner Louis Pepe have been making shorts and documentaries for many years, but Brothers of the Head marks their first full-length foray into fiction. Ironically, the film plays more like fact.

Based on the novella by Britain's Brian Aldiss, who penned "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" (the basis for Steven Spielberg-by-way-of-Stanley Kubrick's A.I.), and written by Tony Grisoni, Brothers preserves the oral history approach of its source material. Although there are moments of humor, the story is ultimately tragic.

Consequently, the term mockumentary does not apply. Even the oft-used "fake documentary" seems more like a slight (however unintentional). I would say that cinéma vérité comes closest to describing the end result.

Although some have compared Brothers of the Head to Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's druggy artifact Performance, which features a rock star (Mick Jagger) trading identities with a gangster (James Fox), to my mind it has more in common with Woody Allen's underrated Sweet and Lowdown, which uses the documentary form to relate the tale of Sean penn's quintessential self-sabotaging musician.

Allen confuses the issue by including real-life figures as commentators. Fulton and Pepe do the same by incorporating Ken Russell into their narrative--though their subject is a set of conjoined music stars (Russell recounts his aborted project about the brothers).

The film looks and feels nothing like Allen's work, but nor does it resemble any previous movies about twins: Stuck on You, Twin Falls, Idaho, etc. The possible exception is David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, but not quite so creepy.

So, I walked into Brothers of the Head, which is set in mid-1970s England, expecting a combination of swirling surrealism and ribald comedy, something like Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was also adapted by Grisoni. Further, Fulton and Pepe just happen to be the filmmakers behind the Gilliam documentaries The Hamster Factor and Lost in La Mancha. But Brothers isn't much like a Gilliam film either.

Rather, I found it to be more original, more realistic and, most significantly, more heartbreaking than I was expecting. Needless to say, it won't be to all tastes (although reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive). That seems to be just fine with Fulton, with whom I spoke during this year's Seattle International Film Festival. A transcript of our conversation follows. Brothers of the Head opens in Seattle at the Varsity Theater on August 11th.

Part One: Living in Seattle

Pepe and Fulton on set

Fennessy: I wanted to start by asking you about Seat-
tle. You moved here in 1988. How did you end up here?

Fulton: When I graduated from college, I wanted to do something other than go straight to graduate school. A friend of mine, who I moved out here with--who I went to college with--had a grandfather here, who she wanted to come out and take care of, so it seemed like a convenient excuse to come to a city I'd always wanted to come to. I was trying to just pick a city I would be interested in living in. It was between Pittsburgh and Seattle. [laughs]

Fennessy: Was there some attraction to--be-
cause you went to school at Temple, if I'm not
mistaken--just going totally across the country?

Fulton: I went to graduate school at Temple. Where I went to undergrad was in Pennsylvania also, but yeah, there was an attraction to that. I'd never been on my own, I'd never even been to the West Coast. I just piled everything into a truck and drove across country.

Fennessy: And you left in 1990? [Fulton now lives in LA.]

Fulton: 1990, yeah. It was only two years, but it seems like the richest two years of my life. You know, I was young and I actually paid attention to things. [laughs]

Fennessy: I was kind of wondering about that, because it didn't hit me until--I don't know, I certainly didn't think about it while I was watching the film--but afterwards, I thought, wait a second: you were here between 1988-1990 and it made me wonder if, subtly, you were influenced by the grunge scene.

Fulton: Um, no. I actually never went
out to hear music. It wasn't something I did.

Fennessy: Interesting...

Fulton: I went to movies. [laughs]

Fennessy: Actually, I was going to ask you about that, too, because I went to school in Washington and I'm from Alaska, so I started coming here to see movies I couldn't have seen at home, like--and these theaters don't even exist anymore--I saw Stranger Than Paradise at the Market Cinema, which might have even been gone before you moved here. Or it ended around that time.

Fulton: I remember the Market Cinema.
I remember the Neptune--where I want-
ed my movie to play, actually. [laughs]

Fennessy: The Neptune's awesome, it's great.

Fulton: It is.

Fennessy: And you were here when they did the double-bills. It
would be like two by Terry Gilliam--because they would always
be playing Brazil, always. And they'd put something cool with it.

Fulton: Those kinds of movie theaters don't really exist much any-
where anymore, because they used to be in every city. Boston, where
I'm from, used to be full of them, but there's nothing anymore...

Fennessy: So while you were here, you weren't working on filmmaking?

Fulton: No. I had studied art history in college and I was interested in the museum and gallery worlds, so I had a job at the Foster/White Gallery in Pioneer Square, hanging shows there, and I did some similar work at the Seattle Art Museum. The Bellevue Art Museum, as well.

Fennessy: Which is a nice museum.

Fulton: Yeah, it is a nice museum--unfortunately, it's in a shopping mall. [laughs]

Fennessy: Yeah, I used to work in Bellevue, or I wouldn't even know about it. And that mall is now just--they keep expanding on it--it's just huge and amazing.

Fulton: The art museum is still in it?

Fennessy: No, it actually moved across the street...

Fulton: Oh good.

Fennessy: In a really slick looking building.

Fulton: Good. I worked at those three places during the time I was here.

Fennessy: So, did you have any significant film-watching experiences here then?

Fulton: That really taps a very bad memory.

Fennessy: Uh-oh. [laughs]

Fulton: Geez, I don't even remember...what were
films that were coming out between 1988-1990?

Fennessy: And even repertory things, just anything
you can remember seeing here that had an impact.

Fulton: I can't.

Fennessy: But you saw a lot?

Fulton: I did see a lot.

Fennessy: That's cool.

Fulton: It's just the hardest thing for me. I used to
make fun of people who would see movies and then they
wouldn't remember them. They saw them and then they
would see them again. And now I'm one of those people.


Next up: On the Author, the lllustrator, and the Location

Friday, August 4, 2006

Free as in BEER (er, coffee)

Word around the palatial SIFFBlog executive suites is that a certain well-known coffee outfit is attempting to stem the postential damage from a recent sports-team sale by oferring FREE TICKETS for the films in the Paramount's immediately impending Silent Movie Mondays series. Stay tuned for further details, such as confirmed locations where one may obtain said schwag!