DAY 16. MASKS ARE REQUIRED: You guessed it, at least one character has to wear a mask for the entire movie.
Chris Sievey was a comedian and musician who started his music career by hitchhiking with his brother and heading to the headquarters of Apple Records, where they did a sit-in and demanded to meet one of The Beatles. Instead, they got to play a song for the head of A&R Tony King.
His band The Freshies had their biggest hit with “I’m in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk,” but were mostly known only in Manchester. Then, a character that Sievey created, Frank Sidebottom, took over.
Frank was originally a superfan of The Freshies but the popularity of the character led Sievey to focus his output on strictly making records as Frank. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Frank appeared on the British version of Remote Control, as well as live performances and even a comic strip. He disappeared until 2005, when his Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W appeared on television and then he never went away again until Sievey’s death. His song “Christmas is Really Fantastic” was a big hit and there was even a social media campaign to get his song “Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day” on the charts.
Jon Ronson was the keyboard player for Frank several times, touring with him while beginning his writing career, which has brought him into the orbit of David Icke and Alex Jones before anyone in this country really knew who they were, unlike now when conspiracy theories are everywhere. His book The Men Who Stare at Goats became a movie, then he mined his past to create the script — based on his newspaper article and co-written with Peter Straughan — for the mask-filled movie we’re about to discuss.
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) dreams of being a rock star, but has no idea how to get there. One day, by whim or fate or accident, he watches a man try to drown himself. That man was the keyboardist for the Soronprfbs, an experimental group that he is invited to play with that very night. Walking in off the street, he sees the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man with a very large masked head that he plugs a microphone into. Before he can get his bearings, the band begins to play and the performance just starts to come together when Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) flips out and destroys her KORG keyboard.
The band moves on. Jon cannot.
Soon, Frank calls him and invites him to join the band. Unknowingly, that means going to Ireland for an extended period to record an album. Jon struggles to be accepted by the rest of the band, which includes Baraque and Nana (Carla Azar, from Autolux, which is fantastic). As he secretly records the band, they begin to get noticed, which is the very thing that Frank both wants and fears most.
Stephen Rennicks from The Prunes wrote much of the music in this and it feels so real. The scenes where the songs come together are magical. And the scene in the diner, where fans are asking Jon about the band and wondering how crazy everyone is and not understanding that they are real people, underscores the issues of mental illness versus art that Roky Erickson, Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston all really lived.
I’ve only seen one other Larry Abrahamson film before, 2015’s Room, but I really need to take the time and track down everything else he’s made. This movie really took me on a journey and I found myself filled with emotion at the end, as Frank is revealed.