Steve Sullivan’s pop-y doc is a far cry from the Jon Ronson-penned, Lenny Abrahamson indie Frank, even if they do technically start in the same place; an eponymous musical genius hidden inside a giant paper mache head.
The core difference though, is the focus. Whilst the Fassbender-starring movie was exactly that – a big-screen adventure with kooky characters and clever storytelling, Sullivan’s real-world version has a lot fewer bells and whistles, but a heftier dose of heart.
The real side to the Chris Sievey/Frank Sidebottom dichotomy isn’t quite as fantastical and life-affirming as Ronson’s book and eventual film might’ve had you believe (although to be fair to the Frank team, it was only ever loosely based on the Sidebottom myth). Starting from the very, very beginning, Being Frank digs into the core of who Sievey was as both a person, and a musician, long before the whacky-toned caricature from Timperley ever showed up. It’s not so much a “man behind the mask” film as it is the long untold story of a fierce creative who just couldn’t catch a break, and the way that shifted his outlook over several decades.
The structure is largely your standard talking-heads-next-to-archive-footage deal, but it serves as a real credit to the sheer weight of content Sievey left behind, that there’s not a single minute of wasted run-time. Whether it’s his old Freshies buddies riffing on a gig that went ever-so-slightly tits-up, a chunk of improv Frank footage from a pub quiz, or a hugely detailed self-penned cover letter for a DIY TV series that never made it to air, Sullivan manages to frame everything in its own clever context, without ever being episodic. There’s real flow.
But what gives Being Frankits biggest boost is it’s outlook. It knows it’s a story that’s bigger than just one man. Sullivan doesn’t hide Sievey’s woes; his trouble with drink and drugs, and the very reason Frank was born in the first-place. His family make up a big portion of the interview roster, and everyone’s very open and British about what went on, and that in turn, gives the film it’s overall vibe; an honest, no-frills tribute to undying creativity itself.
Sievey arguably never made it big (well, never without the head anyway) and it’s something that weighed on him to the end, but Sullivan finds hope in the tragedy, a message of never-ending perseverance. The story of Frank isn’t about cracking the popularity barrier or finding real fame, it’s about embracing your own art and running with it. Self expression for the sake of self expression, not produced solely to chase stardom. It’s inspiration in a bottle: go out there and make something, just because you can.
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2018.