Cinema: Frank

By Ross, Deborah | The Spectator, May 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

Cinema: Frank


Ross, Deborah, The Spectator


Credit: Deborah Ross

Frank

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Frank is a music biopic, but only of sorts, as it is not at all like your average music biopic. It's not that processional march we have come to expect; that chronological story of tough beginnings, the moment of discovery, tour montages, calendar dates flying, and finally making it big. In fact, this is about a musician for whom making it big would be the death of him, and very nearly is. Also, it stars Michael Fassbender wearing bad knitwear and a giant paper-mâché head. So it is not Walk the Line or Dreamgirls or The Karen Carpenter Story , is what I'm saying, and it is profoundly more interesting and affecting for it.

This is based on a memoir by the journalist Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare At Goats ) who, as a writer, has made the marginalised his speciality and who, for a spell in the Eighties, played keyboard for Frank Sidebottom and his band. Frank sang about his hometown, Timperley, and Monopoly and football, and wore the big fake head. Sometimes audiences applauded Frank and sometimes they threw stuff at him, and he didn't appear to mind which way it went. Frank was the alter ego of musician and comedian Chris Sievey, who would not answer to Chris, when he was being Frank, which he always was on stage, and for many hours off it. Ronson, together with writer Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ; The Men Who Stare At Goats ) and the director, Lenny Abrahamson, initially set out to make a straight film about Chris/Frank's life but then decided to fictionalise it as a celebration of pop savants everywhere; of those who do what they do because that is who they are, and who -- look away, if you are easily shocked -- don't give a fig about fame. (Captain Beefheart probably fits into this category, as did Syd Barrett.)

We are taken into Frank's world via a character named Jon, as played by Domhnall Gleeson, a young actor who is going places so fast I may eventually have to forgive him for starring in Richard Curtis's About Time . (Not yet, as it still feels rather raw; but maybe soon.) Jon lives with mum and dad in a seaside suburb and holds down a dull call centre-type job, but fancies himself a keyboard player and composer. …

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