Family ties at the Independent Film Festival of Boston
Try as they might to be independent, filmmakers are still bound by family ties, the same as everyone else. That’s one of the conclusions I draw from the rich and varied selection at this year’s Independent Film Festival of Boston. Another is that in just its fourth year of existence the festival has become the premier such event in this area, far eclipsing the longstanding and now virtually defunct Boston Film Festival.
Certainly you can’t get much more avant-garde or closely bound than in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Brothers of the Head (2006; April 21 at 6 pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and April 23 at 5:45 pm at the Somerville Theatre). In style and structure the film stretches conventions and the limits of coherence: it is a mock documentary, based on a novel by Brian Aldiss (who appears played by an actor), that contains footage from another fictitious documentary and from an unfinished fictitious fictional version of the same material directed by Ken Russell (who appears played by himself). Varying film formats mirror the layers of artifice and reality. Clearly Fulton and Pepe picked up a tip or two from Terry Gilliam in their non-mock-documentary on him, Lost in La Mancha.
The film’s subject, however, touches on perhaps the closest family relationship possible: Siamese twins. Barry and Tom Howe are siblings joined at the chest, content to live in isolation in a remote seaside nook of England called The Head. But an entrepreneur desperate for a hit novelty act “discovers” them, in the mid-’70s, and they are groomed as punk rockers. It’s kind of like Spinal Tap with a shared liver and no laughs. Like the Polish Brothers’ Twin Falls Idaho (1999), trouble predictably comes in the form of a femme fatale who falls in love with one brother and wants to split up the band. Ranging from the pretentious to the visionary, the film demonstrates undeniable intensity and talent.
Though not physical, the fraternal bond in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005; April 24 at 8 pm at the Somerville Theatre with Hillcoat and star Danny Huston in attendance) is just as vital. Captain Stanley, a lawman in the 19th-century Australian outback, played by a sweaty and choleric Ray Winstone, is determined to “civilize this country.” Like Gene Hackman’s sheriff in Unforgiven, his methods don’t bear close examination. One obstacle to his dream is renegade psycho Arthur Burns (Danny Huston, evoking some of his dad’s malignancy from Chinatown). Stanley captures Arthur’s brothers Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey and offers the former the title deal: he won’t hang his brother Mikey if Charlie tracks down Arthur and kills him. Hillcoat matches rocker Nick Cave’s overheated script and moody music with Sam Peckinpah–like balletic violence and picturesque squalor, and the actors for the most part (such as John Hurt in a gut-busting cameo) chew up the highly photogenic scenery. The sheer excess makes for great fun and a sometimes convulsive beauty.
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