I never done a film review before but here goes…
Last night I travelled over to Bridport down here in beautiful Dorset for the opening night of the From Page to Screen film festival where the film ‘Frank’ – a film about the late comedian Frank Sidebottom – was being shown in a special screening at the Electric Palace. The film’s two writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan were present to introduce the film for what was its British premier and a Q&A session with them took place after the film.
My Frank Sidebottom memory interlude:
I was a convert to Frank Sidebottom after I saw him perform in the comedy tent at the Reading Festival back in 1991.My friend Aydin and I got down to the front of the crowd ready for the headline act and Frank was on before him* and as he came on we both groaned and said “Oh not him!” but we had our precious places so we stayed there and agreed to weather the storm that was coming our way.
Oh my God he was brilliant. The songs, the jokes, more songs the football getting kicked off the stage and Little Frank was there too – it was just fantastic and having never really got Frank when I’d seen him on the telly, in a live environment he made total sense and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I laughed, I sang and when he saluted the magic of Freddie Mercury I knew that I was in the presence of somebody special and to this day some 23 years on it remains one of my all time favourite gigs. Anyway back to the film…
‘Frank’ isn’t a biopic about Frank Sidebottom but the story is inspired by him – Ronson played with his “Oh Blimey Big Band” band in the 80s and has written about him before for the Guardian and recently published a book about Sidebottom to tie in with the release of the film – it’s well worth a read if only for the account of him supporting Bros at Wembley Stadium!
Following their introduction to the film as Peter Straughan walked off stage he said that he hoped we enjoyed their strange film and I have to say that it was very strange but it was lovely, funny, sad and thoughtful and I can’t stop thinking about it today. I really want and need to see it again because I know there were bits in the film that I missed and that I’d like to see again.
Franks begins with Jon’s recruitment to Frank’s band in an unnamed seaside town after their previous keyboard player is sectioned. The band members take an instant dislike to Jon but he travels with them to Ireland to a holiday lodge to play and record their album. Whilst there Jon gets to know Frank and begins to realise that despite his dreams and declaring himself a song writer he’s just not very talented. He learns more about Frank and the reasons why he wears the papier mache head. All the while he is using social media to update his growing number of followers about the progress of the recording.
Michael Fassbender plays Frank complete with papier-mâché head and his performance is incredible and at times I found myself thinking “But that’s Michael Fassbender!!! Is that really Michael Fassbender?!?” and despite the fact that throughout the film his real face is hidden from us he projects the sadness that is inherent in Frank, the magic that he brings to people and the belief that he instils not just in his fellow band members but in people as such as a German mother of one.
When the film reaches its final act it needed the actor who had been in the mask to have actually been Frank throughout to portray that sense of torment and sadness that is revealed and for it to be real and moving. It all makes sense and explains the surrealness of what has preceded in the film and Fassbender does all that and made me love him even more than I did before. I found the section where we learnt about Frank from his parents and where he came from and what he’d been through incredibly moving and Fassbender IS Frank and he is loved unconditionally by the people in his life – it’s just an exquisite bit of film.
Please don’t think that this is a depressing film – there are sad moments in it but there are lots of genuine laugh out loud ones too – my favourite involves a tin of food supplement which makes total sense in the context of the film. Maggie Gyllenhall is superb as the Theremin Jon hating player in the band and if you’ve read the book then you know that she is based on a real member of the Oh Blimey Big Band. Domhall Gleeson who plays Jon puts in an understated performance as a musician who tries to grab the opportunity that he’s been given and in doing so ends up realising that he’s never going to make it and sees his actions gradually destroying the thing that people who detest him loved.
Frank shows the process of finding redemption and the ending of the film is heart-warming and lovely and dare I say that I had a tear in my eye at the end of the film? Well of course I do because I did.
The Q&A after the film was really informative and we learnt such things as nobody really seems to know how Michael Fassbender got involved and that from the off he knew he’d be wearing a mask throughout the film. Lots of scenes that the writers loved got cut out and I really hope they get put on the blu-ray when it comes out. Oh and I now have the urge to listen to Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart but probably just the once and I can’t wait to read Jon Ronson’s book about Twitter when it comes out.
Frank is dedicated to Chris Sievey who was Frank Sidebottom and I can’t think of a more appropriate and wonderful tribute to a much loved and unique entertainer.
*The headline act was Dennis Leary and when his stand up comedy is ever mentioned then legally one has to condemn it and state that he completely ripped off Bill Hicks’ act.
We also saw Simon Day that weekend and he was trying out new stuff – this was before The Fast Show and he was mainly known at that point for Tommy Cockles. It didn’t go well and at one point Day asked the audience for a chance and that he had to try out new stuff, it did get a bit uncomfortable but come on, Dave Angel?!? Competitive Dad?!? The stuff of comedy legend!