The story of the the man behind the Frank Sidebottom mask, here’s our review of Being Frank.
Director: Steve Sullivan
Cast: Frank Sidebottom, Chris Sievey
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Robin Bell
As I was writing this, I heard the terribly sad news of the passing of Keith Flint from The Prodigy. It backed up something inherent in this documentary: that popular culture/music thrives off big, indelible imagery. Sometimes scary, sometimes cartoonish and, in the case of Keith and Frank Sidebottom, both. The image of the papier-mâché head haunted my childhood, but I was drawn to it and recognised at an early age that this was part of being British, the eccentricity and oddness.
This documentary film takes a while to get to Frank, though, as first we’re introduced to the man behind the mask, Chris Sievey, and his more serious music endeavours. He started out with Beatles-inspired pop groups and a stream of home recordings, plus a very creative approach to trying to get signed by a record label. But after years of heartache and missed opportunities, Frank comes along as his next creative endeavour, and that big indelible image and character takes over both Sievey’s life and the film.
One of the great elements of the film was the nostalgia it evoked within me. Taking me back to a forgotten world of fanzines and creator-designed artwork. The creativity bursting out of Chris Sievey seemed to be endless and personal, referencing The Beatles and Doctor Who constantly. As with all stories of creatives where boundaries aren’t kept in check, there comes a price. As you’re grinning at footage of Frank’s chaotic appearances on Saturday morning kids’ shows, you realise the chaos is part of the creation. It’s here the documentary explores some interesting and dark areas, such as alter egos and split personalities, debt, alcoholism, and the personal nature of the recorded video footage chronicling all of this is affecting.
This isn’t a downer of a film, though, and if you see Frank Sidebottom as a sad character you are wrong. What this documentary shows is the balance of inspiration and failure, the same mix that fuelled Andy Kaufman’s act. It’s a creative knife edge, and it’s exciting, and all built on a larger than life image. And that image will forever be celebrated.