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  Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story Under The Dome
Year: 2018
Director: Steve Sullivan
Stars: Chris Sievey, Johnny Vegas, Ross Noble, John Cooper Clarke, Mark Radcliffe, C.P. Lee, Mike Joyce, Gaz Whelan, John Thomson, Bruce Mitchell, Mike Doherty, Jon Ronson
Genre: Comedy, DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Frank Sidebottom was an entertainer who mostly played comedy and music gigs around the Manchester area of England, but he went further afield as well, even abroad, though his main audience was in Britain. He was a self-made personality, unmistakeable thanks to his persona as a man with a papier mâché head on at all times, though despite his wackiness, there was a more serious side to Frank. This was his creator and performer, Chris Sievey, who had tried to make it as a pop star in the late seventies and into the early eighties until he hit upon the idea of an alter ego, but soon Chris found Frank taking over his life, and his serious creativity was swamped...

By all rights, Sievey should have stayed a "local character", the sort of person who amuses his mates, whether down the pub, or at a kickabout on the park's football pitch, someone who you either met in passing and found diverting or heard about as someone's dad who was a bit of an eccentric, but was always nice to you if you were over at his kids' place. "Eccentric" was the crucial word: the world is not always kind to people like that, especially a world where being dourly serious and cynical is the default mode we're all supposed to settle for, you know, like you can laugh and have your fun now, but always remember in life you're not here to enjoy yourself, because we told you so.

Therefore a personality like Sievey's should really have struggled to survive, and as this documentary points out the further it progresses into his private life, that's precisely what happened to him. He was simply too creative for this world, a fount of ideas that only he could have realised himself, since you had to be on his wavelength to get the joke; as with many talents that don't naturally fit the mainstream, he was his own best audience. If there was one person in the audience who laughed, or joined in when appropriate, then that was a major success for someone like Chris, finally a connection had been made through the medium of mirth, except of course he wanted to be Paul McCartney.

Macca is not best known for his sense of humour, he has one, certainly, but it was not his forte, whereas Sievey, who wanted to be the next Beatles, all of them, was hilariously funny while he actually yearned to write songs deeper in meaning than Christmas is Really Fantastic. Yet as we can perceive, he knew what his strengths were, and when an audience, no matter how small, responded to his material by laughing, that was better than nothing - a lot better. Sure, Frank became a Frank-enstein's Monster for him as he took over his life and ensured he would never be approached on the level of a sincere talent of - there's that word again - serious songs, but his dedication to being very silly was both his undoing and the reason his fans loved him. He was naturally funny, and sometimes that was not enough.

Something else funny, but funny peculiar, is that when we see Chris and Frank, they genuinely seem like different people - even when there's footage of Sievey taking off the fake head it's weirdly difficult to connect the two as the same soul. This was a crowdfunded documentary with money raised by fans, those same fans who paid for his funeral as he was never flush with cash at the best of times, and the mere act of preserving his archive - cassettes tapes, VHS tapes (or maybe Betamax), comic strips, you name it, he was an obsessive self-chronicler - proved the worth of the entire enterprise. But it was a fan's view of Sievey, and if you were not there when he was in full effect, catching him on television or radio, or reading his comics, or attending his gigs for the more dedicated, then you would probably see this of academic interest in the main, though it did move when delving into his not so sunny personal life. If they did not quite translate the appeal here, it was not through want of trying, and besides, trying to capture a character like Frank was like lightning in a bottle. You know it is. It really is. Thank you.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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