(l to r): Allen, Mendez, Chappel. At the film fest in Austin

If you are a fan of silents, this Austin-made film may be your favourite of the year.

Three Headed Beast is a typical love triangle story, told in a very untypical way. Of the 83-minute runtime, approximately 20 minutes has spoken dialogue. The rest is just noises and soundtrack.

Directed and produced by Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh, it very much about things being left unsaid – which is why we have a (mostly) silent film. For those who have never see a silent film, it relies on one thing that most modern flicks lack: real acting.

Before the transition to talking pictures really got rolling in 1929/1930, actors actually had to act! No special effects, no yelling and screaming, and usually no fancy cinematography.

In this film we have 2 guys in love but one of them (played by Cody Chappel) has been in a 7-year relationship with a woman (played by Sarah J. Batholomew).  The woman is obsessed with reading the book After Monogamy by Maria Mendez. There is no such book, but if this film has inspired you to step out, there is a real book entitled The New Monogamy: redefining your relationship after infidelity. The boy in the middle, Alex, is Hunter Allen.

Three Headed Beast, which has an IMDb rating of 7.2 out of time, seems to be much more popular amongst the younger crowd, with the over-45 group giving it a 5.5 (based on a small sample, though). It was shown this past week at the aGLIFF (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, to use its previous name).

Since there were several fairly steamy scenes (no frontal nudity, though), the actors interacted with a sensitivity coach. Allen said “Before we filmed any intimate scene, from my experience, I felt comfortable with both the actors I worked with. It didn’t feel weird or uncomfortable at all.”

Chappel, by contrast, admitted to “entering it with a lot of stress, because I was the oldest person among the cast. I remember thinking ‘I play this very aggressive character with masculine energy.’ So I was very conscious of that throughout. To an extent you want to get lost in it so there really was a delicate balance that was struck.”

He gave a very special insight into the acting method employed in the film, describing it in the way they were taught by the sensitivity coach.  “One of the best exercises was identifying the pressure with which we touched one another: Muscle level, skin and bone. You could plan ahead and rehearse it like any scene, but when you got to filming it everything was so well rehearsed that the thought behind it disappeared and you hit every moment and that self-consciousness that I felt suddenly evaporated.”

Rugh, left, and Andrés at Prism 35, the 35th year of the Austin gay film festival

Andrés explained how he approached creating the film. “The way I  came at it was exactly what is happening with Alex, the younger character, who had just left a very serious monogamous relationship and becoming involved with this older man in an open relationship. That was the perspective I had going through, and what this film is like a dramatization of.”

He expressed his detachment from what is being portrayed in the film. “I felt like any filmmaker is already an outsider to whatever they’re capturing, but I was literally the outsider to the relationships. I cringe when sometimes people say ‘This is a statement on polyamory or open relationships’ because I was just coming at it from the younger character’s perspective.”

Cinematography is especially critical in a silent film, and this one does not disappoint. Look for example at a scene where an artwork entitled La Luna is on the wall. It shows a man and woman being romantic in the moonlight. The scene then cuts to a holiday cabin upon which the real Moon is shining.

Certainly a bold expression of love, with or without the spoken word, Three Headed Beast will likely just be the first film from this dynamic duo in Austin.


(l to r): Allen, Mendez, Chappel. At the film fest in Austin




By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.

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