When it was announced that they were going to make a movie based on Frank Sidebottom and that Fassbender was going to play him I like most people was like whoa! Frank Sidebottom, the cult icon was famed for wearing a big papier mache head, being friends with Little Frank, being from Timperley, singing Beatles medleys about Linda McCartney, being on Match of The Day (in his big shorts) and as much as we loved him, there was nothing Hollywood about him.
The film was written by Jon Ronson who was in Frank’s band in the 80’s and the screenplay was based on this article he wrote for the Guardian about the whole experience, I would recommend reading the article after watching the movie as whole bits of dialogue are lifted from the article! He’s also written a whole book about Frank which is cheap on Amazon at mo.
The movie depicts a character Frank who like Chris Sievey’s Frank Sidebottom wears a papier mache head, but never takes it off, not even in the shower, not never. The rest of the band seem to accept it, and as manager Don points out “he’s the sanest cat I ever met”. The movie follows Frank and his band (featuring the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal as theremin/synth lady Clara, I assume a nod to Clara Rockmore) slowly record an album, travel to SXSW and the bands demise and resolution.
The thing that I found the hardest to grasp is that Fassbenders’ Frank IS NOT Frank Sidebottom however the movie IS about him and dedicated to him. So regardless of this Frank being Frank Sidebottom or not, people are going to compare this Frank to our Frank. The movie paints Frank as someone who’s always struggled being himself, started wearing the mask as a teenager which gave him confidence to be who he was, a very troubled man. Though inspired by Chris, this is obviously an exaggerated version of Frank which Jon has decided to project for the movie. I spent a lot of time wondering, is this a sympathetic portrayal of Frank and would Chris/people he was close to be happy about it? And was this easier for Ronson to put this project into fruition after Chris’s death? The only time in my head that Fassbender’s Frank was anything like Frank Sidebottom was his stage manner and particularly was when Frank attempts to write a likeable song and the band hate it! (see the trailer for a snippit of the scene) Fassbender’s singing voice was also more of a Stephen Merritt barritone, not the famous nasal squeal that we’re accustomed to!
Being a musician myself, I tend to find most movies about bands and musicians kinda dreadful, but I found this pretty spot on in places, I particularly empathised with Jon’s struggles with songwriting, I’d actually been talking to a friend about our songwriting woes just before the movie started! And also seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal exclaim “get the fuck off my theremin” and play a Korg MS20 on film was also a dream for this keyboard playing lady to behold!
I would recommend seeing this movie and chalking the Frank character up to artistic license, enjoying the film for what it is. However if you want to really know the story behind Frank I would recommend ordering a copy of the Being Frank documentary to get the whole wonderful story of Frank Sidebottom, you know you should you really should.
I’ll leave you with this…