"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.
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