True creative genius is hard to find and impossible to fake. When it’s genuine, it’s awe-inspiring. And, typically, it comes from the most unsuspecting of people – the quiet, shy, closed-off among us, brains constantly whirring with ideas and plans. Chris Sievey was one such individual and Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is a fantastic insight into the man underneath the paper mache head.
Born and raised in and around Manchester, Chris was an imaginative child, constantly drawing, painting, creating, thinking up clever ways of always being one step ahead of his friends. As a teenager, he collaborated with his older brother Martin, making tape after tape of self-recorded EPs, sending them out to record companies attempting to land a deal. Considered a bit of a wheeler-dealer, Chris knew early on how to get a laugh, but music was his true passion. In the early 1980s, his band The Freshies landed in the charts, self-proclaimed for not being ‘cool’, with titles including ‘I’m in Love with the Girl on a Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk‘, which peaked at number 54 (a travesty, it’s a great track). After a string of mediocre singles, Chris wanted to up the ante of their performances, and so Frank Sidebottom was born.
Originally described as a super-fan, Frank was a 35 year-old, suit-wearing square, living at home with his mother, obsessed with The Freshies, football, and Timperley, his hometown. While Sidebottom was originally considered a side project for Chris, it was soon clear to everyone involved (Chris, his band-mates, maybe even Frank himself) that he was the real star. Word quickly spread about The Freshies‘ fantastical fan, and so crowds at their gigs grew, if only to get a glimpse of the man, the myth, the legend. Frank was soon landing his own musical performances and guest spots on television shows and radio programmes, always cheery, enthusiastic, and seemingly oblivious to how popular he really was. However, the same couldn’t be said for his creator, who slowly spiralled down into a world of drink, drugs and depression.
While Being Frank doesn’t skew typical documentary conventions, what makes it special is its content. Packed full of interviews with those closest to Chris and Frank, we see appearances from his children (Stirling, Asher and Harry), older brother Martin Sievey, comedians Ross Noble and Johnny Vegas, author Jon Ronson, radio DJ Mark Radcliffe (who was part of Frank’s band, The Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band), punk poet John Cooper Clarke, Chris’ band mates, and Frank’s own superfans. Director Steve Sullivan saved what can only be described as a treasure trove of original Chris content from his house – notebooks, diaries, video and cassette tapes, props, artwork, work-in-progress plans – giving his audience a detailed, in-depth, privileged look into the life of one of the UK’s best comedy brains.
At times, laugh-out-loud hilarious, at others, surprisingly moving, Being Frank feels a little like we’re riding a roller-coaster. From Chris’ humble beginnings – living in a pokey flat, avoiding paying his bills and instead planning his latest shot at fame – to the heady heights of Madchester stardom, we can almost track his feelings along the way, and spot when things took a turn into a fast downfall. While friends and comedy colleagues have a good idea of who Chris was, listening to his family talk about him are maybe the most moving pieces of film I’ve seen in a while; they knew a softer side to him, the man behind the mask, the one they’ll miss most.
As someone who wasn’t aware of Sievey, Being Frank is an incredibly fascinating deep-dive into both Chris and Frank. All at once it’s an inspiring, heartwarming, heartbreaking documentary, with a portrait of Chris built from insights from his nearest and dearest. If this doesn’t inspire you to go off and make music/paint/build yourself a huge, cartoon head, I don’t know what will.
Being Frank is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
Order it now: https://amzn.to/2GS1ARi