23 Apr 19
With documentaries, particularly retrospective ones, the subject or subject matter is already proven to be story-worthy, often far more so than with any fictional character that could be conjured up!
Chronicling the life of Chris 'Frank Sidebottom' Sievey, Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story patches together interviews, television clips and "mouldy VHS footage that's been found in a box". The amusing man who turned up periodically on Saturday morning kids' TV (to those of a certain age!) was a Pandora's box of wild creative energy that regularly tipped over into obsessive compulsion, often to no benefit other than to satisfy his own wonderfully twisted comic satisfaction.
Chris Sievey began as a prolific musician, hand-drawing his own posters and album covers, promoting himself – even including self-addressed rejection letters to would-be record signers – before slipping into the iconic papier-mâchéd head that would provide the subliminal backdrop to 1980s Britain.
The jury of family, peers, comedians and public all seem to be out on whether the man was a comic genius, aware of and manipulating the most minute details surrounding every body of his work, or a schizophrenic of sorts, allowing his creation to run amok beyond the limits of his own control and embittered that the man beneath the mask remained forever out of the limelight. Whatever the case, watching Frank in full flow there's little doubt that something rare and rather special was going on beneath the layers of paper. Seeing any artist, athlete or entertainer transcend the humdrum every-day, questing for their own ideals and dreams, money and fame be damned, is true inspiration.
There's often, it seems, a painful moment when fame kicks in, gears shift, and as the glue began to become unstuck, there were problems with alcohol, depression and his family. What's striking is that throughout every stage of the man's life, even the most sombre, one still finds oneself bursting into giggles at the bloody-minded tenacity and unbridled audacity that the man throws back into the face of all complications and problems that life laid in his path. This surely is a man dancing to his own tune, and in a world that rarely makes sense, what better champion than the one that outplays it at its own game.
There are facades that can be put on – singers can be taught to hold notes, actors can be schooled in poses but there are some things that can barely be comprehended, let alone recreated. Frank Sidebottom may have been largely dismissed as childish humour by the mainstream but it takes incredible effort to seem as effortless as he did and it's a privilege to glimpse the life and creativity of the person behind the painted blue eyes of this beloved icon.
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