GFF Review: Being Frank- The Chris Sievey Story

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Images: Altitude Pictures

Glasgow Film Festival, 2019.

Reviewed at CCA, Glasgow.

Ohh, blimey! The late Chris Sievey’s comic creation Frank Sidebottom makes those of us of a certain age get somewhat misty -eyed. He was like performance art meets end of the pier humour, a uniquely banal form of subversion.

Be-suited, sporting a large, papier mache head, and carrying Little Frank, a small ventriloquist dummy of himself, Sievey brought  surreal anarchy to indie gigs and children’s TV alike, in the eighties/ nineties. His nasal accent was created with a swimmer’s nose piece worn under the head, and his DIY aesthetic, pure punk.

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The real Chris Sievey in the early ’80s.

This film, lovingly created in inventive fanzine style by Steve Sullivan, tells his story. But which one… where, oh where, to begin? With the story of how he wooed girlfriend (later wife) Paula when he pushed her into a canal?

Publicity stunts for Sievey’s floundering band The Freshies, involving stealing Stiff Records headed notepaper? Perhaps the anecdote of how Sievey created a computer program through sheer boredom? Snooker on a tour bus? Creating an awkward silence at Wembley, opening for Bros?

Creating his own football team, the stipulation of which was that they had to be replete with massive shorts? There are many bizarre strands to this genius career, all of which seem apocryphal, but are absolutely true.

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Yet this touching, hilarious and even-handed documentary doesn’t paint Sievey as a saint. Fame turned his head. Band members like Jon Ronson and Mark Radcliffe, as well as outspoken brother Martin, don’t skimp on his ego problems; his descent into alcoholism, philandering and the simple matter of not paying his tax bills.

His tragic death from cancer in 2010 was further compounded by the fact that he would have been buried in a pauper’s grave, were it not for a crowdfunding scheme helmed by Ronson.

Now, though, there’s a statue of Frank in (where else?) Timperley, and not before time. He stands as a true original, a flawed maverick who, alongside the likes of Daniel Johnston, Ivor Cutler and our much missed Ian Smith, created his own world.

In the words of the papier mache maniac himself, “It’s fantastic, you know it is, it really is”. Everything else is just “bobbins”.

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http://www.glasgowfilm.org/festival

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