Recommended Viewing Situation:
Surrounded by the Galactic Siren sounds in your cabin in the woods.
Running time: 96 minutes.
Format: Digital 35mm on Arri Alexa, Zeiss Standard Speed and Super Speed Lenses.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson.
Writer: Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan.
Cinematography: James Mather.
Awards: Won Best Independent Film Award for Best Screen Play and Best Technical Achievement, and more.
It’s been a long time since this writer has seen a work that deals with the realities of mental health so earnestly and frankly. Nor did I think such a film could actually make me ‘rock-out’ in the process. Frank (2014) is the eclectic masterpiece written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, 2004 and Room, 2015). The story follows a wannabe Brit-pop musician (Domhnall Gleeson) who is invited to join an avant-garde noise group, ‘The Soronpfbs’, fronted by a man with a giant Styrofoam head that he never removes (Michael Fassbender). Let’s begin…
Michael Fassbender as Frank is electric, thoroughly mystifying and somehow communicates a gambit of passions through his emotionless Noh theatre-esque bubblehead. To address the elephant in the room, Frank, or rather, Frank’s giant head, is an allusion to the socio-political comedic and musical persona Frank Sidebottom. An invention of Manchester born Chris Sievy, Sidebottom fronted the band, The Freshies (head and all), during the 1970’s and 80’s. Ronson was a member of Sievy’s band and it is thought that the original Side-bottom gave his support and consent to the film before his death in 2010. Although some critics have noted that the new Frank is nothing like Sidebottom’s persona, this film is a testament to inspiration as a part of storytelling, as opposed to nostalgic or pastiched nonsense that often plagues modern films. The originality and refinement of Frank is echoed by the deft cinematography of James Mather, who creates a wholly rich yet raw aesthetic that immerses in the story of the music, whilst keeping a competent eye on the modern day.
This film boasts an extremely talented cast; The Soronpfbs consist of Michael Fassbender on vocals, Maggie Gyllenhaal at the theremin, François Civil on the guitar, Carla Azar (one of Jack White’s frequent musical collaborative partners) on the drums and Domhnall Gleeson on the keys and guitar. You’ll be amazed and pleased to know that all of the music and instruments are played by all of the actors respectively, making the real achievement of the film its soundtrack, or as I affectionately call it, The Soronpfbs first album. It is a sonic experience, even the absurd ‘most popular song’ is so catchy and entertaining, you’ll wish these guys stayed together as a band forever. My personal favourite, ‘Secure the Galactic Perimeter’ a psychedelic rock odyssey from the depths of space and time. Cosmic.
As you might expect, there are many allusions to rock legends scattered throughout the film, but the plot predominately draws its inspirations from the spirited myths of Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston. Although it might sound like Almost Famous but British, Frank is much quirkier and more compelling. It is a tender, challenging piece at its heart and it will catch you off guard. Characters aren’t what they seem and motivations aren’t always clear or reasoned. However, this is the point. Frank is a film that is totally itself, people are complicated, confused, alone, but find commonality and communication through art and creativity. It’s hard to find something truly human in cinema; films often prefer ‘legends’. Frank is both.