Being Frank: The Story of Chris Sievey Review

To be frank about Being Frank: The Story of Chris Sievey is to imply any logical conclusion to a man with a papier-mâché head roaming the streets of England. Chris Sievey did just that and fashioned out a cult comedy that would sadly last far longer than his own life would. Frank Sidebottom is still out there, but not in the Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton style. Sidebottom still crops up in those that love to engage with his work, from Irvine Welsh to Jon S. Baird all the way up to Michael Fassbender who starred as the man behind the mask in the delightfully fun biopic, Frank. Always, if possible, hear it from the horse’s mouth though. Being Frank: The Chris Sievey story offers up a rather haunting depiction of the man behind the mask.

With some tonally awash music to underscore Ross Noble’s talk to camera, with various interviewees proclaiming that they don’t want to know of the man behind the head, documentarian Steve Sullivan marks a piece both tender and disturbed. For those out of the loop, seeing a man wear a papier-mâché head with Darth Vader hanging from one end of some rope with no shoes on is a strange and avant-garde experience, but that was Frank Sidebottom. That much is confirmed by Sullivan, who is happy to let those fond of the cult figure talk of him, what he achieved in comedy and why it was so important that it happened.

Sievey’s comedic reach runs far further than Sidebottom, which is alluded to very briefly in Being Frank: The Story of Chris Sievey. A generation brought up on Pingu, Fimbles and Bob the Builder may note his name on the credits every now and then, fumbling away behind the scenes. Dwindling through the influences and inspirations of the Sidebottom character, from the corners of The Beatles’ bootleg tapes to drug-fuelled commentaries, there is a lot to unpack with the Sidebottom character and a lot of it is more interesting than the comedy itself. What it impacted and influenced is monumental but the actual practice and act of delving deep into all the bits and pieces of Sievey’s life is not as interesting as first thought. The Freshies were born from the loss and gain of interest in showbusiness, but it seemed Sievey was the main man to pursue that fully.

Surprising it may be, but Being Frank: The Story of Chris Sievey documents not just a man with a knack for odd form comedy, but a genuine musical talent that was lost in the grand machine that chews up so many other artists. Sullivan’s work here fills in a few gaps but must pad out other parts that may not be much use to those who are not particularly aware of Sidebottom. Even then, some of the details on display are not exclusive to Sidebottom and get lost down avenues of rare oddities of the record business and Apple Studios. Frustrations of failing records, rejection slips and a burst onto the scene with a dwindling star are all well and good, but they must be documented well. Sidebottom planned to “make a living doing what I like,” and that he did. Sullivan shows that at the very least.

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