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 of...fun. 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 twins...you'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 lot...to 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.