Whether you followed his music career, the surreal hijinks of his big-headed alter ego or never even heard of Chris Sievey, this documentary is a mesmerising look into the often self-destructive mind of an artistic genius.
When Sievey died in 2010, there was an unprecedented outpouring of grief. It seems there were so many people touched by the lunacy of his character Frank Sidebottom that they instantly donated to give him a decent funeral, and then later to erect a statue to his creation in his honorary home of Timperley, just outside of Manchester. This extended to the production of this documentary, a crowdfunded labour of love for filmmaker Steve Sullivan, who had worked with Frank on a short film covering his Magical Timperley Tour. It was a mammoth undertaking; Sullivan took possession of dozens of boxes that contained everything Sievey had kept over the years. It turns out that he was a massive hoarder, but Sullivan has managed - with the help of Chris’ family, friends, and fans - to piece together a semblance of a life story.
We’re introduced to Sievey as a young man, his mind full of imagination and always striving to create and be something more than a regular 9-to-5 worker. The progression from wannabe pop star with his band The Freshies (who should have been massive with their catchy ditties) to perpetual man-child Frank Sidebottom is covered thanks to Chris’ obsessive use of video; whether it was Super 8 cine film or early mammoth-sized camcorders, he documented his band, family, and random thoughts perfectly. Watching this footage now gives us a much clearer insight into the man than any pseudo-intellectual retrospective put together by people who never came into contact with him. Instead, his story is told through those who knew him. There’s no pontificating about deep meanings in his work (although there is a secret code that Chris inserted into his posters for Frank that provides a Da Vinci-type mystery to his story), just a no holds barred revelation of his ups and downs.
There were many downs. No punches are pulled when it comes to Sievey’s flaws, his recklessness with money and later dependence on drink and dalliance with drugs is almost as sad as the fact that despite unquestionable talent, he never quite made it as big as he deserved to be. Sure, Frank was a well-known face (or at least head) on TV - particularly children’s shows - but there’s a feeling that, like many people when they reach a certain level of success, he was trapped by his most famous creation.
Sullivan’s film is a rollercoaster of emotions for fans of Sievey; it’s hard not to see his end as a cruel tragedy, but there is enough joy in his work on show in the documentary to offset the ultimate sadness. While it doesn’t touch on everything he did - the film would be ten times the length if it did and Sullivan had to edit down a nine-hour first cut to a more seat-friendly 100 minutes or so - we get a real sense of Sievey’s anarchic life and how much his art - in whatever form it took - meant to him.
Like all the best documentaries, however, you could watch with no prior knowledge and still be completely captivated. If you have a passing recollection of Sievey’s creation - or only knew of him from the Hollywood version portrayed by Michael Fassbender, then this will open your eyes to what he put himself through to make people laugh, and it will also reveal the genius that was behind those big blue eyes. It will also show you there was much more to Chris than a papier-mâché head. Being Frank is certainly not bobbins, and should be on everyone’s must-see list.
BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY / DIRECTOR: STEVE SULLIVAN / STARRING: CHRIS SIEVEY, MARK RADCLIFFE, RICK SARKO, BARRY SPENCER / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 29TH
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10