'The Wolfpack' Brothers Show Us How to Reenact Our Favorite Films
Brothers Mukunda and Narayana Angulo of 'The Wolfpack' made their own <i>Pulp Fiction</i> and <i>Dark Knight</i> reenactments with cereal boxes, cardboard, paper, tape, and the occasional yoga mat.
Mukunda Angulo with his handmade arsenal made from cereal boxes. Photo by Megan Delaney
There are already five handguns on the table when 20-year-old Mukunda Angulo reaches into his duffel bag full of props and pulled out another.
"I never thought I'd say this," I tell him, "but nice guns."
Mukunda grins and continues to retrieve prop weaponry from the bag.
"Those are Berettas, actually," he says. "We used them in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Tarantino likes to use silver Berettas from old 70s cop dramas."
A magazine slips from the bottom of the gun, and Mukunda, like a pro, slaps it back in. When he hands me the gun, I'm mildly surprised that instead of cool metal, my hand grips cardboard. He lays another weapon down, this time a sinewy-nozzled assault rifle, then a shotgun, and then—why not?—a chainsaw, complete with individual teeth. The conference table, which was inconspicuous and mundane only moments before, begins to shine with the lethality of a drug-bust haul.
Prop-building is but one of the many talents that the six brothers featured in the award-winning documentary, The Wolfpack, have acquired through reenacting films scene by scene, many of which were created while under domestic confinement by their intensely domineering father. Aside from heavily monitored trips, such as to the doctor, the brothers were never allowed to leave their house out of a fear of the outside world. "In the summer," says Mukunda in the film, to the documentarian Crystal Moselle, "there was more a chance of us getting out. Sometimes we'd go out nine times a year, sometimes once. And, in one particular year, we never got out at all."
In a more conventional home setting, the reenactments could have been mere child's play. But for the Angulos, they became a kind of salvation, glimpses into the world beyond their four-bedroom Lower East Side apartment. The boys' unique craft have caught some influential eyes, putting them on the path to promising film careers only five years since entering society. Since winning Sundance's best US Documentary award, Magnolia Films has acquired the film and teamed up with VICE to promote it.The Wolfpack is releasing digitally release the film on iTunes today.
Watch an exclusive clip of the Angulo brothers' reenactment of 'Pulp Fiction' from 'The Wolfpack':
"I actually haven't seen it ," admits 22-year-old Narayana, Mukunda's elder brother who has joined his brother in meeting me at Magnolia's offices.
"I can't help but connect that that was me," Mukunda says of watching the film. "But we've come such a long way in such a short period that we're all pretty optimistic about our futures.
I keep an eye out for familiar objects as Mukunda removes more costumes and props from the large bags by our table. I spot the Batman suit Mukunda shows off in the documentary, along with various other masks and bodywear—including Darth Vader and Iron Man.
"Everything here is made with cereal boxes, cardboard, paper, and tape," he explains, and then glances over at the Batman suit. "And the occasional yoga mat, for dexterity." I pick up the Vader helmet. It's painted black on the outside, but beneath the dark visor I spot the cheery eyes of a familiar leprechaun: Lucky from Lucky Charms.
"These might interest you," says Mukunda. He places a bundle of manila envelopes on the table. They're scripts for the many films reenacted, "around 25 to 30," adds Narayana, "though only half have scripts—we had a lot of films already memorized." I leaf through the dozen or so envelopes: Halloweens 1–5, The Unforgiven, No Country for Old Men, Reservoir Dogs, JFK. One particular envelope catches my eye. I open it to find a script with the orange-and-black title card faithfully reproduced by what appears to be marker: Pulp Fiction.
"We didn't use scripts when we first started out," says Narayana, "We'd just memorize lines, pause the film, and rehearse the scene."
"It was a very organic, in the moment kind of thing," says Mukunda. "We all had these films in our heads, and would just kind of act them out solo. We noticed we were all doing it, so we decided to collaborate on doing a film, the first being Lord of the Rings. I made swords and a Gandalf staff. We took it pretty seriously, acting out scenes over and over, getting better each time."
Many of the initial reenactments weren't filmed, and an early attempt to do so ended up poorly. "We tried to recreate and film The Dark Knight scene by scene," says Mukunda. "I spent a long time on costumes and scripts. But the camerawork was out of our league."
The brothers had better luck with Tarantino. The Wolfpack opens with a reenactment of Reservoir Dogs, where a brother playing Mr. Blonde sings "Stuck in the Middle With You" to another brother, who is bound and gagged. The film later shows footage from a reenacted Pulp Fiction scene where two of the brothers acting as Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Julius (Samuel L. Jackson) are arguing as they clean brains from a car.
"I played Julius," says Narayana, shyly.
His brother turned to look at him. "We all knew you had to be Samuel L. Jackson!"
Narayana shakes his head. "I'm trying out for Mia Wallace next time."
Mukunda, who wrote the script, played Marsellis, the Kingpin-like mob boss memorably played Ving Rhames. When it came time to be bound, gagged, and ready for Zed, Mukunda simply wrote in "use a pillow." Whether the pillow was meant to gag or to be a stand-in for the gagging scene was left unclear. The role of Vincent was debated between two brothers, Mukunda and Govinda. Eventually Mukunda won the part.
"It was because I had the longest hair," says Mukunda.
His brother counters: "No, it's because you're the wolf." I wonder if this is a reference to Mukunda being the brother who first broke out of their house, or if I have accidentally glimpsed the brothers' hierarchy. Perhaps Mukunda, with his prop-making skills and directorial aspirations, had become a sort of de facto leader.
For their Tarantino attire, the brothers say they wore suits their father obtained from a Ludlow clothing shop that had placed them on a free rack. These same black jacket and trousers, coupled with black ties and shades, have given the boys a look of camaraderie that now graces the film posters for The Wolfpack.
"Pulp Fiction is about 50 pages," says Mukunda, pointing to the handwritten script in my hands. "It's all dialogue. If there are other moments, such as car crashes, we would write, 'Hit table.'"
To get the sounds of gunshots, the brothers used a synthesizer. In another reenactment, this time for Oliver Stone's Platoon, to get the sound of rain, they used an applause function built into the keyboard. "We'd just weigh the key down, and have the rain going for as long as a scene needed."
Since the brothers would often reenact an entire movie in one go, a soundtrack was needed that coincided with transitions and accompaniment.
"We would grab a song, and edit it just as it is in the movie. So we would record all the songs onto one cassette tape, and you would edit it on another cassette by pausing where it would cut off in the movie."
The brothers credit Moselle with giving them the initial tools and training to improve their filmmaking skills. She lent them her cameras and gave them "little story assignments" to exercise their minds and help them learn the equipment.
"One story needed a wide shot, another a dolly shot," says Mukunda. "One required a close-up, another a dissolve. We began putting these together to get our shoots to be how we wanted them."
Moselle and the brothers have now formed Wolfpack Pictures, an umbrella company for all of their various endeavors. VICE recently co-produced Mirror Heart, a short original film directed by Mukunda Angulo, that he describes as "different creatures coming to terms with their differences." It stars his five brothers as well as his sister, Vishnu. And later this year, the brothers will release another Mukunda-directed work, Window Feel, that will feature outside actors, including Chloe Pecorino who makes a brief appearance near the end of The Wolfpack. The Tribeca Film Institute has commissioned them to reenact a clutch of Robert DeNiro films, while the San Francisco Film Institute hired them to recreate scenes from three iconic films that take place in the City by the Bay: Mrs. Doubtfire, Dirty Harry, and Sister Act. And the Angulos have begun to explore individual interests—one brother is a dancer, another a cinematographer; two brothers have formed a band ("They scored Mirror Heart," says Mukunda, proudly), and Narayana has become engaged in activism. "Gasland got me into protesting fracking," he says. He now works for NYPIRG.
These social engagements are a huge turnaround from the brothers' extremely sheltered upbringing, and both Mukunda and Narayana concede that the change has been easier than anticipated.
"We've become pretty adapted to society," says Mukunda. "For so long we were told how everyone was out to get you, and all the people we've met have been just the opposite, so nice and encouraging. Even our mother has emerged from this as a more empowered and independent person. She's making her own choices, and reaching out to friends and family she has not seen in a long time, and has a lot planned for the future."
I gently inquire about their father, last seen in the film lying shirtless across his bed, a tall hat on his head, watching television. "He has no say in anything," says Narayana. "Our mom's in charge of the house now."
Michael Barron is on Twitter.