As the title suggests, Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is no straightforward bio-doc. It is the story of two men: one real, one made-up; one frustrated by lack of artistic recognition, the other the strangest pop-cultural success story of the ’80s and ’90s. Inextricably bound (by being the same person), yet starkly distinct and, to some degree, mutually antagonistic.
Even the most ardent Frank Sidebottom fans will learn something new.
Frank Sidebottom emerged in 1984, initially as a fictional megafan of Sievey’s band The Freshies, then as a semi-stand-up supporting novelty act, invented by Sievey to help promote and boost his struggling music career. By 1992, the cheery, ’toon-faced buffoon had eclipsed his creator to become a cult phenomenon with his own ITV show (Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show) and performing at the Reading Festival on the same bill as Nirvana and Public Enemy. He even once opened for Bros. But, despite seemingly craving the limelight, Sievey never publicly revealed himself as Frank. Did he secretly fear the attention? Or was it just that Sidebottom had taken on such a life of his own, Sievey didn’t want to puncture the perfection of his creation?
Being Frank doesn’t quite answer that question. It certainly tackles the odd creator/character relationship, yet fails to draw any firm conclusions. In that sense, it does get a little frustrating. But to be fair to director Steve Sullivan, Sievey is sadly no longer with us to reveal all, having died of cancer in 2010. Also, Sullivan has done a fantastic job chronicling both lives — and the ’70s to ’90s indie scene that surrounded them — using a wealth of musty archive material rescued from a cellar.
Even the most ardent Sidebottom fans will learn something new, while those who never gave a damn about Frank should still appreciate what they find out about the man behind the mask. And there are some surprisingly touching moments, which mostly come courtesy of Sievey’s family. The head might have been papier-mâché (later fibreglass, when he got big), but the heart was all too real.