Thursday, June 29, 2006

Head Candy

Day five of Being Boring's coverage of the LA Film Fest (And the final OutFest Wednesday Screening)

Brothers of the Head is a new offering in a formidably familiar couple of overdone genres. The Rock biopic or merely Rock film has been done again and again, particularly in these recent years. Some, like Van Sant's Last Days and Haynes' Velvet Goldmine get to the heart of the matter in a poetic and essentializing manner. In the former, Van Sant humbles those songs and persons whose mythologies have far surpassed their humanity (and who better to represent this than Kurt Cobain) showing us that those songs which have become anthems to an entire generation merely begin with a man in a room with a guitar. Plain and simple. Haynes' film is a more complex creature which investigates the inflated persona necessitated by the Glam Rock era, basically, personal mythology and how that not only affects the performer but those adoring fans who see in each gesture a world of meaning and validation. Both are grand stories of enormous public acclaim.

Brothers is a quieter film, though one quite indebted to both aforementioned films. Fronting as a documentary, this fictitious retelling of the tale of two Siamese twin brothers who form the front of a cultishly successful punk band called the Bang Bang. It is a film in constant flux, from overtly simplistic (which would seem to be the fate of conjoined twin fiction - really, it is a genre in itself) to surprisingly complex. As a writer, who arrives to condemn the manager for exploiting the twins' deformity observes, instead of finding two weak victims, Tom and Barry are strong and reverent individuals who seem quite comfortable with their circumstance.

Never quite settling on what you expect, the film is at once a condemning parody of the contemporary Biopic, a mutivalent exploration of collaboration, a love letter to the punk era, a visually driven non-narrative experimental film and an all-too conforming doco (even though it's not really). I'm not convinced that it should have presented itself as a documentary. That would seem to be the one great flaw in the film. The "source" footage being so beautiful, one is slightly irked when the camera returns to the talking head which he already knows to be a falsity. This critic, of course already admirously familiar with the cult director Ken Russell was pleasantly surprised at his appearance at the film's opening. Russell, the film would have you believe, followed his (actual) Tommy with a biopic called Two-Way Romeo which the film presents in small segments (though it is quite obviously not a Russell film)

To claim that Brothers was free of flaws would be completely incorrect. They are quite prevalent throughout, but I am hard pressed to recall a film whose aesthetic was as tight and breathtaking as Brothers of the Head. A fictitious documentary film crew shoots the "archival" footage from which this film has been assembled. It is some beautiful footage, grainy and sensual. There's one shot of the brothers bathing themselves in a darkened room. The smoky haze of "dated" filmstock renders the scene with a pictorialist sumptuousness. Light cascades over the lens as the brothers practice in a window-lined sitting room. We never truly believe that the twin actors are conjoined - mainly because of the directors' endless efforts illustrate their dependence. They do cartwheels together. They run together. They play guitar together. Overcompensation works oppositionally. Yet toward the end, you stop caring and give yourself over to the story. It's one that's terribly original, but so beautiful that I found it difficult to tear my eyes from the screen.

Immediately following the Screening of Brothers I attended a preview screening of the filmic prequel to the cult television show, Strangers With Candy. While it did not live up to the terribly high expectations I held for the film, neither did it disappoint. Strangers With Candy, the show, had about 10 jokes, but they were damn good ones. Embarrassing scenarios repeated themselves with varying results. Mostly, they proved to be some of the more reverent moments of TV history. We see those same jokes played out here, this time on the big screen. They are still funny, but without a serial progression, the film loses something in translation. Scenes of Jerri in prison are funny because those who have followed the show already know Jerri Blank. We know her reputation and are finally treated to the "before" which was always merely alluded to.

The film follows Jerri's release from the state penitentiary and, in an attempt to revive her comatose father (Dan Hedaya), restarts her life from the very moment it went awry - namely Highschool. But shedding 30 some odd years of debauchery and drug addiction becomes more of a challenge that it initially seemed. The original crew is reassembled, mostly. Of course Steven Colbert and Paul Dinello (who also serves as a rather unsteady Director) revive the melodrama of their homosexual affair, though both seem strangely preoccupied. (Dinello's distraction can be pinned on directing, but what for Colbert?) As is usual, Greg Hollimon's Principal Onyx Blackman (you guessed it, he's a tall, deep-voiced black man) nearly steals the show and supplies the best chemistry when pitted against (not with) Jerri. The countless celeb cameos are mostly throw away. Sarah Jessica Parker's grief counselor is a new high in low, as is her hubby, Matthew Broderick, as Colbert's arch nemesis.

Priceless are the moments like the final sequence in which Sedaris dances around in Bali drag while Megawatti Sucarnaputri, in black face with painted-on white beast fangs, writhes in a cage. The film, like the show, is never one to cower in the shadow of political correctness. Quite the converse. The message of the film turns out to be "We're all racist," and really, wasn't that all that Crash was trying to tell us. I'm not sure whether I want to call Strangers With Candy a parody or a alternative to Crash, but for God's sake, at least the film has the balls to really tell it like it is, without leading us through every moment. There is an equivalent amount of misses as there are hits in this mostly impeccably written script. A lot of the spunk is gone from the original. But still, when likening it to everything else out there, it's a hell of a good time.


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