"}
Film

Frank

It’s all in his head

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Genius is hell, both for the blessed and those stuck in the shadows, cursed to spend a lifetime smashing their heads against the glass. In its presence we find ourselves dwarfed and dumb, like moths. We know we’re before brilliance we can’t comprehend—and we know we’ll never have it, no matter how hard we try.

In England in the ’80s, there was a pop musician named Frank Sidebottom, who became less famous for his fuzzy covers of hits than for the giant mask he wore while he sang, an 18-inch fiberglass globe with round eyes, big lips and a prim side part. He wasn’t a genius. He was a novelty, and perhaps a bit of a nut.

Like so many gag acts from that decade, Frank Sidebottom and his band, the Freshies, were as much performance artists as rockers—Frank himself once said that his favorite show was for 15 bored people who wound up ignoring him to play with a ball.

British journalist Jon Ronson (author of nonfiction must-reads Them, The Psychopath Test, and The Men Who Stare at Goats) played keyboard for the Freshies, admitting that the only requirements were the ability to finger C, F and G, and the patience to always call the man in the mask “Frank.” (When Frank took it off, he reverted to Chris Sievey.)

The masterstroke of Frank, the film Ronson 15 years later cowrote with Peter Straughan and set in the present day, is that this time the man in the mask is a modern Mozart. And, unsparingly, Ronson has written himself as the jealous goober—the band’s ignorant Iago—who risks everything, with the delusion that he’s the smart one.

In his first gig with Soronprfbs—the unpronounceable name is the first clue that Frank has no aspirations of radio airtime—Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up looking like a modern rock star in a hoodie and T-shirt. He finally has a chance to look as cool as the dudes whose albums line the shelves of his room—and he’s instantly outclassed by the band: two French snobs (Carla Azar and François Civil), a Theremin-pounding banshee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Frank (Michael Fassbender), the Easter Island god of the stage, who has paired his giant head with a scuba suit.

Frank never takes off the head. But how does he eat, brush his teeth or shave, Jon asks? Replies Soronprfbs’ manager (Scoot McNairy), “You’re just going to have to go with this.” And so we do.

Director Leonard Abrahamson frames the film as a millennial myth, sealing the band away in a remote cabin in Ireland to record its first album, which sounds like whale noises, acid freak-outs and the B-52’s.

Isolated among the trees, Frank walks tall—all Fassbender has to act with is his spine—and unnerves Jon with his ability to compose a song as easily as breathing. An off-the-cuff ode to a strand of fabric becomes a ditty worthy of prime Paul McCartney. He’s no gimmick—he just looks like one—and like Jon, we’re torn between wanting to share his gifts with the world and the looming fear that the world has become so cynical that it will write him off as a joke.

Wrested from the forest and steered at Jon’s request to the streets of Austin’s SXSW festival, Frank looks smaller and stupider—no better than the twee ukulele starlets, and a whole lot less accessible. The real-world detour is grating, as are Jon’s frequent tweets about the band, but that they cheapen the alienness of the film’s first half is kind of the point.

As much as we might wish they weren’t, our brains are aligned with the small-minded and corruptible Jon: Our culture has so merged music and commerce that we can’t be in the thrall of splendor without wondering how to market it. Even Frank himself falls sway to fame, muttering about YouTube, which he calls “secret camera,” as if it’s a mystifying cargo cult. Only Gyllenhaal’s angry art-rock girl is aware of the fragility of his mental health: Frank doesn’t wear the head because he can, he wears the head because he must.

Look closely at Frank’s mask and you’ll spot two plaster bandages by his nose, a hint at a life that’s taken some lumps. Study Fassbender’s limbs and see one of the best physical performances of the decade. His face never changes, but he has visible soul. In small movements—the twitch of a hand, a wobble under a door frame, a beer and straw held uselessly by his painted mouth—Fassbender gives us glimpses of what Frank’s isolating genius has cost him. Would we, too, sacrifice normal pleasures for a chance at eternal greatness? Or would we rather suffer alongside Jon, cursed with the heart-melting torture of knowing that the gods of music will never love us in return?

Ticket Cascadia
More Film...
Doctober
Handling the truth

By now, everyone knows that when I’m not executing my Cascadia Weekly duties, I’m moonlighting as a projectionist at the Pickford Film Center.

While the Pickford is currently offering its customary selection of top-notch indie movies, behind the scenes, all conversation revolves…

more »
London Road
A musical murder mystery

The techniques of verbatim theater go back decades, to at least the 1950s, when young German theater troupes would reenact complicated court cases word for word onstage. Even earlier, in the United States, the WPA paid for a form of this performance with its “Living Newspapers,” in…

more »
The Magnificent Seven
Another day, another remake

The big difference between the new version of The Magnificent Seven and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters. The titular seven in director Antoine Fuqua’s take are a diverse bunch, while the ruthless villain of the piece is no longer a Mexican bandito…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Ensembulele

4:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Final After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

Autumn Soups

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Tame Your Inner Critic

7:00pm|Village Books

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Looking for Betty MacDonald

7:30pm|Village Books

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 CW BOB 2016
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Autumn Celebration Dinner

5:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Artifacts Wine Bar
Saturday
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

see our complete calendar »

{/exp:stash:get_list} Artifacts Wine Bar Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 Village Books Zoots Side Bar Mount Baker Theatre Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 CW BOB 2016 Everybody’s Store