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MOVIE REVIEW

'Brothers' plays with filmgoers' heads

Does the world really need a fake 1970s rock documentary about a pair of Siamese twin glam-punks? Not when it's as muzzy and self-indulgent as ``Brothers of the Head." On the other hand, this clever fraud -- based on a book by Brian Aldiss -- apes the cinematic and musical excesses of its era so eerily that it's worth a look, especially if tormented Brit rock sets your antenna a-quiver. You may feel as if the 1970 Mick Jagger head-trip movie ``Performance" had been remade by Marty DiBergi of ``This Is Spinal Tap" fame.

Actually, the British filmmaker called on to make a film starring Tom and Barry Howe in their early days is none other than Ken Russell (``Tommy," ``The Devils"), and the aging enfant terrible is interviewed in ``Brothers" as if he actually had made a movie with the two. It's even possible he thinks he did, since directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe have gone to the trouble of cooking up some of the footage Russell supposedly shot.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Per the storyline here, Tom and Barry, joined at the chest and played respectively by unconjoined twins Harry and Luke Treadway, have been raised in rural English obscurity until the early '70s, when they're discovered and signed by impresario Zak Bedderwick (Howard Attfield), whose motto is ``I never exploited anyone who didn't want to be exploited."

Relocating the twins to his crumbling mansion on the moors, Bedderwick hires an abusive manager/nanny (Sean Harris), and tries to mold his Pygmalions into freak-show teen idols. First they need to learn to play their instruments, then a band name must be conjured, then it's off to a dank club to debut the Bang Bang's first single, ``Two-Way Romeo." The crowd has no interest in the song and would much rather see the band of flesh that joins the two. The movie says the music business is a carny sideshow and we're all here to see the geeks.

Rebellion kicks in early. Barry is the hard-partying anti social brat who moves the Bang Bang's image from garage-pop through glam-pop to angry proto-punk. Tom, the dreamier, more talented twin, writes pensive tunes and looks stricken, as you might too if you shared a liver with Johnny Rotten. The arrival of a female journalist (Tania Emery), who falls for Tom and quickly becomes his Yoko, hastens the descent into madness.

``Brothers of the Head" has been filmed to resemble a documentary unearthed from the BBC's vaults: The colors are red with age, the film stock grainy. The air of prankish pop parody dissipates once the brothers reach fame, replaced by the sort of druggy excess and decay familiar from ``Behind the Music." Filmmakers Fulton and Pepe made 2002's ``Lost in La Mancha," a documentary about director Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to film Cervantes with Johnny Depp, and screenwriter Tony Grisoni wrote Gilliam's ``Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- not surprisingly, a Gilliamesque sense of grinning dread permeates the new film.

So does a weirdly compelling eroticism that extends to the brothers themselves. ``Brothers of the Head" is as unfocused as its subjects' career, and it never does much with its central metaphor other than gawk at it. Still, the film is something to see, and when it addresses the mysterious bond connecting creative people, it has an urgent, ugly splendor. Rock groups split up all the time, but rarely at the point of a scalpel.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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