PER­FECTLY FRANK

Di­rec­tor Lenny Abra­ham­son has cre­ated a film about a man be­hind a mask, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

ing punk co­me­dian, a cre­ative mav­er­ick” be­comes, in Frank, an Amer­i­can, not a Man­cu­nian; a mis­un­der­stood mu­si­cal ge­nius rather than a cre­ator of nov­elty pop songs; a char­ac­ter with a deep voice, not a screech.

And the film is con­tem­po­rised, to the point Glee­son’s Jon documents his bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence as a bit player in a band through so­cial me­dia. Abra­ham­son says this Frank “fits into an out­sider mould” and is a “mash up of a whole lot of other mu­si­cal out­siders”, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Harry Partch.

“The film broad­ened out in its scope about what it meant to be this kind of per­son rather than the story of any­one in par­tic­u­lar,” he says.

As such, the movie “moves tonally be­tween stuff that is out and out silly and slap­stick and broad and ridicu­lous to ter­ri­tory that’s quite dark and what people feel is mov­ing.”

It is an am­bi­tious melange to com­bine in one film, Abra­ham­son con­cedes. “But Frank is such an ex­traor­di­nar­ily strange char­ac­ter, he re­quired that spec­trum, the broad­ness,” he notes.

He also re­quired an ac­tor will­ing to re­main masked. Lur­ing Fass­ben­der, who was most re­cently nom­i­nated for an Academy Award for Years A Slave, was an achieve­ment.

“Yeah, I have to say I was pretty sur­prised when he said he wanted to do it be­cause if there’s a male char­ac­ter aged 30-50 at the mo­ment, he’s at the top of the list to be cast,” Abra­ham­son says, laugh­ing.

“But he has al­ways made in­ter­est­ing choices and he is driven by the qual­ity of the work,” the di­rec­tor adds of the star of the X-Men se­ries, Shame, and Prometheus. “In a way he’s got to where he is by mak­ing the kind of de­ci­sions you wouldn’t think he’d make.”

Fass­ben­der told his di­rec­tor he loved the script, which “made him laugh and made him think”. Abra­ham­son adds the char­ac­ter could have been, in other hands, a fey, Michael Jack­son-like in­tro­vert in an ex­tro­vert’s cos­tume.

“But Michael brings this mas­culin­ity and phys­i­cal in­ten­sity to the char­ac­ter that makes it so much more in­ter­est­ing,” he says.

Frank is told through Jon’s voice and so­cial me­dia ac­counts though. And in Glee­son, Abra­ham­son has an ac­tor on the rise and able to im­bue Jon with some­thing more than the pas­siv­ity of an un­likely ob­server.

Glee­son and Bill Nighy dom­i­nated Richard Cur­tis’s re­cent About Time and he stars in the up­com­ing An­gelina Jolie WWII drama Un­bro­ken and the new Star Wars se­ries.

Abra­ham­son laughs his pre­vi­ous young lead in What Richard Did, Jack Reynor is now the lead with Mark Wahlberg in the up­com­ing Transformers: Age of Extinction.

“I’m like good karma or some­thing for ac­tors get­ting huge films af­ter they get lit­tle ones!”

“Domh’s part is re­ally prob­a­bly the hard­est to play be­cause he’s walk­ing a fine line be­tween be­ing de­spi­ca­ble and need­ing the au­di­ence to go with him,” Abra­ham­son says.

“He be­comes an out­sider in the com­pany of all these crazy people in the band.”

Like many out­siders, Jon finds voice through so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar Twit­ter up­dates. The film’s amus­ing in­te­grated tweets came af­ter one ver­sion of the screen­play fea­tured a voice over from an older, re­flec­tive Jon.

“The idea of track­ing Jon via his so­cial me­dia came up and it seemed so right be­cause Jon is so des­per­ate to present to the world a bet­ter ver­sion of him­self than is there,” he says.

“His voice in so­cial me­dia is ripe for satire and al­lows us to com­ment on the whole busi­ness of self-cre­ation and avatars on so­cial me­dia that are gen­er­ally more glam­orous and in­ter­est­ing than the people who cre­ate them.”

The di­rec­tor ar­gues so­cial me­dia can change ver­sions of people’s lives be­cause they go through the day har­vest­ing and ex­ag­ger­at­ing pos­si­ble posts, si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­com­ing dis­joined from the ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of your life.

Sievey’s own life re­mains an enigma. He must have been tor­tured by the ma­jor, on­go­ing suc­cess of many of his band mem­bers and peers. His brother-in-law’s friend Caro­line Ah­erne voiced the part of Frank’s neigh­bour Mrs Mer­ton be­fore earn­ing her own TV show and achiev­ing leg­endary sta­tus with The Royle Fam­ily. Chris Evans, who was a driver for Chris/ Frank, be­came one of Bri­tish me­dia’s wealth­i­est per­son­al­i­ties and a house­hold name, while Mark Rad­cliffe, whom Ron­son re­placed in the band, also be­came a BBC Ra­dio 2 and 6 Mu­sic host. Even Ron­son’s neigh­bour, Mani, formed a band: The Stone Roses.

Sievey wasn’t as suc­cess­ful. Be­fore he died of throat cancer, he was an an­i­ma­tor for kids’ shows in­clud­ing Pingu. He died pen­ni­less but he achieved some im­mor­tal­ity. Mick Mid­dles is about to pub­lish the bi­og­ra­phy Frank Sidebottom: Out of His Head. And he has a statue.

“He was a re­mark­able per­son and Frank Sidebottom was a re­mark­able cre­ation,” Abra­ham­son says.

June 14-15, 2014

Michael Fass­ben­der, left, and Domh­nall Glee­son in

di­rec­tor, Lenny Abra­ham­son, be­low

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