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Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, directors of the documentary Lost in La Mancha, return with the mind-bending odyssey of conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (Luke and Harry Treadaway). Plucked from obscurity by a 1970s music promoter and groomed into a boy band, the twins grapple with impossible love, artistic rivalry and a dark inner life. But they learn to embrace their freakishness and spit it back in the form of searing punk rock songs. Screenplay by Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), based on a novel by Brian Aldiss.
 

 We 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 just doesn’t 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 ask).

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 is 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 any 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 modeling 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 was 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, but 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.