Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

 

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The strange life of a performer unlike any other.

 
Being Frank

  

The fact that this documentary biopic unfolds in the orthodox chronological fashion does not conceal for a moment the extent to which Chris Sievey's life story was anything but conventional. It has already inspired a film, Lenny Abrahamson's Frank (2014), which in a free treatment drew on elements in Chris's life, not least the fact that he was a comic and a musician whose main claim to fame lay in creating the persona of Frank Sidebottom. When performing as Frank, Chris would appear wearing a papier-mâché head. This underlined the singularity of his comedy but also led to suggestions that his identification with Frank was so intense that his creation took him over. To say that this situation was evidence of Chris Sievey becoming schizophrenic may be taking things too far, but what is certain is that he was somebody impossible to pin down and fully understand.

 

This new documentary is not short of archive material and, with the addition of interviews with family, colleagues, friends and fans it enables viewers to draw their own conclusions about this most enigmatic of men. The early stages of his life have a relatively straightforward appeal since he emerges as a youth who, doting on the Beatles, was determined to form a band and create a singing career for himself: his efforts in this respect, Herculean if often eccentric, offer inspiration to youngsters today to go out and do their own thing.

 

The filmmakers clearly relish Sievey and his offbeat humour but don't conceal his faults. Although married at twenty and in time a father of three, he was irresponsible with money from the start and later became an alcoholic as well as indulging in infidelities that would eventually lead to divorce. But what was more extraordinary was the way in which the greater popularity of his alter ego, Frank Sidebottom, accompanied by puppet figures named Little Frank and Denise (the latter headless), underlined his comparative failure as a musician so that depression set in. He would die of cancer in 2010 - this was towards the end of a five-year period during which he appeared as Frank but which was intended, or so he said, to conclude that phase of his career.

 

Eccentric as he was, Chris Sievey was not short of fans particularly in his home county of Cheshire where in Timperley money poured in after his death to erect a statue to him. The film also celebrates his artwork and his popularity on local television, the latter again in the person of Frank Sidebottom. He was a one-off who inspired affection and, like the late Ken Dodd, he was attached to his roots and had trouble over paying his taxes. With a life so strange Chris Sievey is not somebody whose character can be fully known and explained, but he was certainly an intriguing figure. It's an apt irony that the song he came up with about becoming famous when dead could be seen now as a prediction not altogether wrong.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Paula Sievey, Stirling Sidebottom, Bernard Kelly, Asher Horsefield, Martin Sievey, Jon Ronson, Mark Radcliffe, Nigel Round, Brian Little, John Cooper Clarke, Johnny Vegas, Ross Noble, Bruce Mitchell.

 

Dir Steve Sullivan, Pro Steve Sullivan, Ph Ezra Byrne, Ed Steve Sullivan, Art Dir Dave Arnold, Music Frank Sidebottom and Chris Sievey.

 

Piece of Cardboard Productions/Film Cymru Wales/104 Films/Fat Controller Management Ltd-Altitude Film Entertainment.
101 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 29 March 2019. Cert. 15.