Saturday, 9 March 2019

REPORTAGE: Press Screening of new film BEING FRANK (to be released on 29th March) - HOME, Manchester.

This documentary, directed by Steve Sullivan, explores the rises, falls, near victories and near total tragedies of Chris Sievey and his increasingly complicated relationship with Frank Sidebottom. A surprise find of a cellar full of home videos, cassette tapes, hand-drawn books, vinyls and one papier-mâché head is where the film starts, and then we are taken through them with added interviews from his family, friends and bandmates to fill the gaps. 

Both Chris Sievey and Frank Sidebottom are fairly before my time, with Frank only vaguely sitting in my periphery throughout the noughties, so this film was full of information entirely new to me. Though I would not be surprised if even the most ardent fans of Chris Sievey were to see something new. The found home videos are used liberally and provide a truly intimate picture of who Sievey was; they show him as a father, a husband, a struggling musician, a surprisingly skilled entrepreneur and as Frank Sidebottom. The documentary tracks him from his school Subbuteo club, where he sold programmes and tickets, to his early music with his brother, up to The Freshies and their very near break into the mainstream, to the accidental creation of Frank and how that took over his life. Then we reached the decline, his separation with his wife and his retiring of Frank. However, this documentary is nothing but thorough, so we follow Sievey into his new career in animation and then into his decision to reclaim control from Frank Sidebottom by launching a controlled 5 year comeback tour that would tragically go unfinished.

Having watched this documentary and after living this life with Sievey, I feel I fully understand where the drive to create this film has come from. Sievey is spoken off so highly by all his friends; they describe his ‘endless optimism’, his ‘endless supply of stupid but quite clever ideas’ and all said that the times' spent with him were just fun. He also dedicated a lot of time and a lot of himself to his fans, creating personalized, hand-drawn messages and newsletters. Despite his unfulfilled dreams of being a successful musician, and the loss of himself to Frank, he never stopped ‘trying to make a living doing what [he] like[d]’. Even as Frank, he was always pushing to do it his way. And, though the film makes plenty of mention of the financial difficulty this often put his family in, that principled and unbending creed is incredibly admirable. In addition, to his qualities as a human being, I feel his ingenious imagination qualifies him as a genuine ‘man ahead of his time' and deserves recognition. This is why this film is important; to recognize Chris Sievey as an entire person, and not just the man inside a papier-mâché head. For me, the closing credits sum up the bittersweet irony of Chris and Frank. As the main titles finish, a truly incredible list of names start scrolling across the screen, all the people who have funded this film, all named as ‘Frank’s Friends’. And sharing the screen next to this list of names is a video of Chris Sievey singing one of his songs.

Sullivan gave the introduction to the film, mentioning that it took seven years to make and how he hoped it was worth it. It absolutely was. Steve Sullivan has created a wonderful portrait of a somewhat forgotten man. That miraculous discovery of home videos, music, and drawings provides the heart of the documentary; allowing the audience to really see and get to know Chris Sievey as the flamboyant, flawed, undeniably gifted and irrepressibly silly man that he was. I laughed and I cried, and I am, most of all, grateful that such a thoughtful record of Chris Sievey now exists for people to see. 

Reportage - Deanna Turnbull
on - 28/2/19 

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