Frank Sidebottom was in touch with his fans. I used to write to him and he used to write back too. If you sent him a stamped addressed envelope, he would send you a fanzine (or Com as he called it) absolutely free. This is a documentary about his creator and alter ego, Chris Sievey, created largely from around 100 boxes of archive material donated by his brother.
The young Sievey is making pamphlets and entertaining people from a young age. In his teens he forms a punk band called The Freshies, they nearly have a hit and achieve many more flops. In frustration he creates a papier-mâché mache head and becomes Frank Sidebottom, a fictional superfan of The Freshies. It would be nice to say whether on not he ever looked back, but that’s what the bulk of this film is about.
It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Chris lived for his art and we find out how it affected his friendships, family and own self from the raw archive footage and interviews with people involved, many of them now celebrities in their own right. Chris however was never a celebrity but as we see from his early diaries, all he wanted was do do what he was good at and earn a living from it.
Due to the nature of the material, this film is one of the most intimate factual pieces I have seen, though it is never less than sensitive. A big strength of this movie is that in places where it could judge the performer, it stays faithful to its subject and moves on, leaving the viewer to decide.
As an almost lifelong fan, I found one scene incredibly emotional. Frank removes his head to reveal Sievey underneath. I asked the director Steve Sullivan if it was a difficult decision to include because to me it broke the integrity of both stars. He said not at all, as it was a good way to introduce the man behind the mask back into the film. He had several shots but this was the most dramatic, the VHS source has deteriorated and we get the impression that this is something that has been replayed and replayed, if not the tape but in Chris’s life. It is the one visual connection between the two personalities and as the wasted Sievey is revealed we question which one is the creation of the other.
Being Frank ticks every box of a cult movie, but it deserves to reach a wider audience. If viewers can see past the poor quality of the footage and, let’s face it, a lot of Frank’s gags, they will be rewarded with a story of an entertainment maverick’s true dedication and passion to his art.
Being Frank opens to selected cinemas nationwide on Friday 29th March 2019.