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 again...so 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.
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
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?
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