"I can't think of a better way to remind yourself how beautiful life is"

Dan Martensen spent five years photographing the Angulo brothers and discovered a world of pure imagination.

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19 August 2015, 11:25am

Growing up in the heart of New York City is a teenager's dream - the chance to roam Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx for mates, music, style, culture and adolescent love. But that's hardly the experience of the Angulo brothers. They were raised with the Lower East Side on their doorstep, but were kept inside by their Peruvian father's peculiar mix of protection and control, and their Midwestern mother's obedience. "There were probably more rules for me than there were for them," she admits in The Wolfpack. The boys were only allowed out a few times a year, and one year, not at all.

The parents' plan was to make money in New York, then move to Scandinavia, but they were soon stuck in an area that they found threatening and they didn't want their children getting out. "It was a piece of jail out there," says the father, giving his perverse logic for keeping them locked up for most of their childhood. Sometimes the kids weren't even allowed to move rooms without permission.

The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle's documentary film about the brothers, captures the claustrophobia of their childhoods. To cope with their lack of physical freedom, the boys watched films (they have about 5,000 DVDs) and recreated them with remarkable skill, transcribing scripts and making costumes out of cereal boxes and yoga mats. The Wolfpack veers between being haunting and inspiring, but is always saved from bleakness by the boys' sweet spirit, boundless creativity and nonchalant style. As Moselle filmed the boys over the years, her friend Dan Martensen photographed them, and is releasing a book of portraits that celebrate the Angulo bros' odd ability to look like the film stars they emulate — only better.

"They dress with a certain courage that, when your parents send you to school, tends to get edited more heavily," Martensen explains. "The boys spent their whole lives only dressing up in front of each other. Now after years of confinement they're proud to finally be able to flaunt their styles, their hair, show the world their identity."

The photos also have a strong cinematic quality because Martensen picked filmic backdrops to give the boys the real-life versions of the sets they'd recreated in their cramped flat. "Once I got them out of the house, I realised that since our connection was film, we could go to places that evoke certain films we all like: the train tracks, inspired by Stand By Me; Coney Island, inspired by The Lost Boys. It's the escape to these places, both literally and figuratively, that connected my experience as a young adult to theirs."

The images expose the innocence of the boys' delayed discovery of the outside world. In the film, the pack see some ordinary city trees as a giant forest from Lord of the Rings, and later feel like they're in Pirates of the Caribbean as they hit the city beach in winter coats and wellies, smoking through a cigarette holder. It was eye-opening for Martensen too: "I can't think of a better way to remind yourself how beautiful life is than to experience something again with someone for the first time," he says. 

Narayana
Where do you dream of living?
Anonymously in the wild.

What was your strongest memory of the outside world growing up?
9/11.

What do you want to be?
Filmmaker and activist.

What was the first movie you saw?
True Lies.

Who's your all-time favourite character?
The Terminator.

What's the bravest thing you ever did?
Going door to door talking to people I've never met.

Is it weird being in the limelight?
More surreal, after going from being sheltered and not really having any middle ground.

Eddie
Where do you dream of living?
Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

What do you do for fun these days?
Play harmonica and guitar and drink Jack and coke.

What do you want to be?
Listen to the Judas Priest song I'm a Rocker and you will get it.

What was the first film you saw?
Friday the 13th, Part 3.

Who's your all-time favourite character?
Lemmy Kilmister.

What's the hardest part of growing up?
Not living in the 80s.

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
I don't know about the bravest, but the stupidest was letting people in.

Who do you look up to?
Just the 80s.

Finish this sentence. Age is...
Sexy and 17.

Govinda
Where do you dream of living?
Venice, Italy.

What was your strongest memory of the outside world growing up?
9/11.

What do you do for fun these days?
Avid reading. I'm getting into sociology books.

What was the first film you saw?
Last Action Hero at a drive in.

Who's your all-time favourite character?
Charles Foster Kane.

What's the hardest part of growing up?
Finding love.

What's the best piece of advice your parents have ever given you?
Anything that appears and disappears, don't hold on to.

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Flying to San Francisco on my own.

Who do you look up to?
Nobody.

Is it weird being in the limelight?
Not at all.

Mukunda
Where do you dream of living?
New York and Los Angeles.

What was your strongest memory of the outside world growing up?
Watching people outside my window on Halloween day with kids trick or treating.

What do you want to be?
A film director, writer, artist, and prop and costume maker.

What was the first film you saw?
Halloween 1, 2, 4, 5, and H20, The Borrowers and Star Wars are some of the first.

Who's your all-time favourite character?
It changes daily, but in the past I have loved Michael Myers from Halloween, Batman from The Dark Knight, Darth Vader from Star Wars and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

What's the best piece of advice your parents have ever given you?
Both my mom and dad have always told me to believe in myself, and my mom would say,"Follow your heart."

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Standing up to my dad.

Is it weird being in the limelight?
No, it's similar to when we first started going out, getting selfie attention and questions, only now it's because of a movie, which is a 10,000% more flattering.

Finish this sentence. Age is...
A bitch.

Bhagavan
Where do you dream of living?
The wilderness.

What was your strongest memory of the outside world growing up?
9/11.

What do you do for fun these days?
I dance and teach yoga.

What was the first film you saw?
Jesus Christ Superstar.

Who's your all-time favourite character?
Captain Jack Sparrow.

What's the best piece of advice your parents have ever given you?
Do what you love to do.

Who do you look up to?
Yvonne Chow.

Finish this sentence. Age is...
Irrelevant.

@thewolfpackfilm

The Wolfpack is released in the UK on 21 August.

Credits


Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Dan Martensen