It’s that time of year again, it’s just the crack of July, and that means it’s my brothers’ birthday season. Patrick, the rebel of the family, had his on June 23rd and Philip, the one who reminds me too much of me, has his on July 9th. They both live back East in Ottawa, a long way away, and we only see each other every couple of years, which is sometimes too much, sometimes not enough. So in honour of how they’ve been able to consistently turn a year older every year on exactly the same day, I thought I’d run down my list of the top sets of brothers working behind the camera.
5. The Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby)
They hail from: Rhode Island
Notable Collaborations: There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself & Irene
It’s a point of pride for me that these guys came to mind last, and are consequently in last place. I never saw There’s Something About Mary until several years after it came out, I thought Kingpin was exploitative garbage – Bill Murray or no Bill Murray, and Stuck On You scared the crap out of me. However, Shallow Hal actually worked for me, and despite Peter & Bobby’s pervasive use of crudities to push their stories along (and the throngs of imitators to come after them) they do manage to get around to a redemptive message every time. I can’t find anything personal about these guys anywhere, but my perception is that the public doesn’t distinguish between either of them – they’re just the Farrellys with neither being known for anything in particular.
4. The Hughes Brothers (Albert & Allen)
They hail from: Detroit
Notable Collaborations: Menace II Society, From Hell, The Book of Eli
Unlike the Coens, whom I don’t think we’ve ever seen interviewed individually, they don’t necessarily appear in public or in interviews together all the time. For example, despite my hope of seeing some spontaneous banter between the two of them in Maximum Movie Mode, the special features for The Book of Eli blu-ray never has them sharing screen time. I suppose this is an indicator of a process of them clearly delineating their responsibilities in production – with Allen handling the actors and Albert handling the technical side of things, or it could be that as twins they’re trying to carve out their own unique identities. I have read that they don’t always see eye to eye on the direction of a film, which at one point lead to a schism on the content of From Hell. Apparently their disagreement lead to speculation on changes to their working relationship with Albert at one time ready to strike out on his own projects without his brother. 9 years later, nothing ever came of it and they were back to work, and are hopefully grinding away at a live adaptation of Akira.
3. The Scott Brothers (Ridley & Tony)
They hail from: Tyne + Wear, England
Notable Collaborations: Uh, producing The A-Team?
Tony and Ridley represent the only set of brothers on this list who don’t actually work together, other than being an effective pair of producers through their Scott Free production company. They both have firmly established their identities in Hollywood, but for better or for worse, Tony will always be eclipsed by his older brother’s accomplishments, even though he is a remarkably talented director in his own right. Heck, Tony could sweep the Oscars and he’d still be “Ridley’s brother”. Although, if you take a broad look at their careers, Ridley’s best work seems to be behind him, while Tony’s stock has been on the rise as the moods and tastes of audiences have grown to better reflect his style. Perhaps the day may come when Ridley will be Tony’s brother.
2. The Lumière Brothers (Auguste & Louis)
They hail from: Besançon, France
Notable Collaborations: Arrival of a train at Ciotat station, the exit from the Lumière factories, The Cinématographe, film perforations
You might find this hard to believe, but the Lumières are probably the first set of brothers I ever knew about in filmmaking, before any of these other guys. Mind you, when I was taking film classes in high school, I barely knew anything about movies. But if you’re gonna get schooled in the filmmaking process from the ground up, the Lumières are like a tollbooth on the road to understanding. They are the fathers of documentary filmmaking and the inventors of cinematic technologies still being used today. Louis was the source of inspiration for much of the work on the cinématographe and was the one to shoot their very first film (of employees walking out of the factory – still way better than anything Brian DePalma’s ever done), and while older brother Auguste played an active role in their early filmmaking endeavours, he was more interested in medical research. Apparently they were also Nazi collaborators, but we won’t get into that…
1. The Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan)
They hail from: St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Notable Collaborations: The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink
Despite that Joel has been credited as the director of their films, and Ethan as the producer, the two share all the work right down the middle. The Director’s Guild has a lot of funny rules about credits (The Hughes Brothers apparently had to ask for special dispensation to be listed as co-directors) so that might have something to do with it. While their films of late have attracted less and less of my interest, their body of work is incomparable. My favourite films they’ve made aren’t my favourites made by a set of brothers, they’re my faves period. The word on the street is that they’re regarded as the “two-headed director” and see absolutely eye to eye on all of their projects. I suppose that kind of symbiosis allows them to get twice as much done as any other director that’s just one person – which might explain why they seem to be able to make films twice as well as everyone else. And while it all may seem very impressive for Joel and Ethan to be such an effective team, it strikes me as a little creepy that a set of brothers have been able to work so closely for so long. On that I’m sure my brothers and I would all agree.
So Pat and Phil, this is for you guys. We’re probably a little more like the Hughes brothers, and maybe the Scott brothers, but at least we’ll never be as corny as the Coen brothers. Happy birthday, homeys!