Christopher Sievey was a talented, creative artist who many people, including myself, would never have recognised if we passed on the street. That's because he became better known as Frank Sidebottom, a character easily recognised by his oversized, paper-mache head. Frank would still sing, but was more often to be found delivering comedy to audiences who would be equally amused and bemused by such a quirky character.
This movie is based on him, but not JUST him. The main character is an amalgamation of Sievey/Sidebottom and one or two other notable musicians. A lot of material was gleaned from the writings of Jon Ronson, who helped to craft the script, but it's also set in the here and now, instead of the late '80s and early '90s (when Frank was, arguably, at the height of his popularity). So it's a fictional biopic about a man, with some other personality traits added from other unique artists, all embodied by someone wearing a large, paper-mache head. Clear enough? Good.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon Burroughs, a young man who strives to work at his music when he's not stuck in the drudgery of everyday life. It looks as if fortune has smiled upon him when he's in the right place at the right time - near the beach where a keyboard player is trying to drown himself - to be invited to play with an eccentric pop band, fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender, face hidden from sight for most of the movie). But perhaps he should have spent more time considering just what would drive the previous band member to a suicide attempt. If there's a choice between an easy path and a hard one it looks as if Frank wants the band to take the hard path every time. But Jon thinks he can change things for the band. He thinks that, thanks to his updates on Twitter and YouTube, he has created a decent following for them. He's not the first person to think that he can change the direction of the band, and Frank seems receptive to things, but the others warn him against the move. And it would seem that the others have been through this sort of thing before.
I know how ridiculous it may seem, but this film benefits immensely from yet another great performance from Fassbender. He may well be hidden away under that fake head, but his voice and body language convey plenty. Gleeson does well to keep a straight face opposite him, as do the rest of the band members (Francois Civil, Carla Azar, Scoot McNairy and Maggie Gyllenhaal). In the role of Clara, Gyllenhaal is probably the most important supporting player. Her character is often hostile, sometimes violent, but always with the best interests of Frank at heart.
Crucially, the film creates a great aural landscape to accompany the visuals. It may not be a great soundtrack, in the classical sense, but I found many of the tunes and sound mixes very enjoyable. I'm not sure how many, if any, are based on actual works by Frank and co. but they certainly feel in line with the spirit of the artists.
Capturing the essence of someone isn't always that easy. Director Lenny Abrahamson has managed to do it here. Helped by the script, from Ronson and Peter Straughan, this is a look at a particular type of creative mind. It tries to peek behind the mask of one unique individual, despite the fact that the individual incorporates characteristics from a few different people, and then shows that maybe it's best just to stop prying. If the man maketh the mask, and the mask then maketh the man, why even try to disturb the balance by separating the two?
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