Are The Walrus
For a film director, it is a strange thing to collapse yourself into
a “we.” The first person plural doesn’t fit especially well in the
film industry, where audiences crave the “auteur”—the single
mind that creates with its fiercely individual purpose. As a culture,
we like to think
that the artistic impulse is locatable, dissectible—that inspiration
stems from the experiences of one life, not several. People
hate to hear those theories that Shakespeare and Homer were committees,
not individuals. It destroys their ability to identify. It’s downright
un-American. Similarly, we don’t expect our literary protagonists
to hide themselves behind a “we.” Imagine Christopher Isherwood’s
famous opening in the first person plural: “We are a camera.” It
have that ring to it.
As a somewhat masochistic directorial couple, it was no accident that
we chose to make our first feature film about the deepest sort of “we”
conundrum. On the surface, Brian Aldiss’ novel Brothers of the Head
is an outlandish tale about a pair of Siamese twins fronting a rock-and-roll
band. But for us, the story of two inextricably linked protagonists
had a personal resonance. Aldiss surrounds the conjoined brothers Tom
and Barry Howe with characters who wish they could understand what makes
the twins’ union so special, so alluring. These observers form a chorus
of not very reliable “half-people” trying to dissect a symbiotic whole.
They reminded us of the people who think there’s something wrong with
us because we work together, live together, and somehow manage to tolerate
always being Keith-and-Lou (or Lou-and-Keith, depending on whom you
Tom and Barry’s collaboration could be seen as a simple clash
of personalities: there’s the quiet one and the aggressive one. They
can be identified. One wants the girl, the other just wants attention.
One has the wit, the other the charm. One makes you feel welcome, while
the other puts you in your place. But the more interesting point
that one personality cannot be known in the absence of the other. The
essence of Tom and Barry’s collaboration isn’t the nuts and bolts
of sitting down together and working out a song, but the fact that
outstanding attribute of one brother is always seen in the presence
of its complement. Barry’s churlishness is so much more powerful
in the sober light of Tom’s constant desire to please. Together—and
they are always together—they are a phenomenon.
At the center of Brothers of the Head was really a four-way
collaboration—a doubling of duos. There were the actors, Harry and
Luke, and the directors, Keith and Lou. Keith and Lou were frequently
Tom and Barry on dynamics they observed in Harry and Luke, who in turn
would color Tom and Barry with shades of Keith and Lou. Where Luke
sarcastic, Harry was earnest. Where Keith was controlling, Lou was
enabling. Decisions weren’t so much made by one mind or the other
as they were by a collision of ideas and personalities. Part of the
fun of this sort
of push-and-pull collaboration is in the very loss of identity. Yet
people still inevitably ask, of either Harry-and-Luke or Keith-and-Lou,
which one is more Tom and which is more Barry—as if by the time these
identities have bounced their way around the four corners of the collaboration,
the distinction could ever be clear. As the Howe twins said, “Tom grows
on Barry, and Barry grows on Tom, and that is the Bang-Bang.”
Filmmaking, by its very nature, has always been a collaborative medium.
We stress the collaboration between ourselves and our lead actors,
the fact is that without the writer, the cinematographer, the production
designer, and the rest of the key personnel, the film would be nothing.
Even the great auteurs may have been something altogether less unique
without their frequent collaborators. Imagine Fellini without Mastroianni,
Hitchcock without Herrmann, Scorsese without Schoonmaker.
We often forget that dissonance and harmony—those two qualities that
give music its tension and resolution, its drama—can only be produced
by two voices. Sophisticated Beatles fans don’t tend to talk anymore
about the Lennon-McCartney collaboration, but instead get into arguments
about whether they prefer the Lennon Beatles or the McCartney Beatles.
But would one ever have been possible without the other?
I am you and
you are me and we are all together.