Frank

Frank

Postby CAP » Sun Jun 22, 2014 3:42 pm

Interesting but ultimately flawed story about experimental rock band as told by naïve recruit mainly set somewhere in County Wexford, Ireland and Austin Texas. I give it 7. The good bits are early in the movie, when Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a meek bank clerk and aspiring musician is abruptly offered a place in chaotic American touring band, Soronprfbs, after their keyboard player attempts to drown himself at a beach in Jon’s home town. No location is named, but given the script is largely the work of Jon Ronson and autobiographical, it is fair to assume it is somewhere in South Wales. ‘Jon’ happens to be passing the beach at the time and pauses near the band’s van, to watch the rescue by police and ambulance of a clearly demented American. The band looks on impassively. Then Don, the de facto manager (Scoot McNairy) turns to Jon and asks if he can play a few notes on a keyboard. Jon no sooner answers than he is offered the position for the band’s gig that evening. Jon is understandably baffled by the alacrity of the arrangement, but frustrated with his own solo efforts in composing, eager to see what he might bring to an ensemble and performance. The evening commences well but quickly disintegrates in a furious argument between band members who storm off stage halfway through the opening song.

Jon receives a phone call the following day from Don who has somehow managed to track him to his work place and offers him a place in the band’s forthcoming engagement in Ireland. It says something about Jon’s spirit of adventure that on the strength of the previous debacle, he agrees. They pick him up after work and drive through the night to a ferry to Dublin. But they don’t stop there. They drive off into the countryside, finally arriving the next morning at a holiday cottage and surrounding cabins by a remote lake surrounded by a fir forest. In the credits it says something about County Wexford but I’ve no idea exactly where. Here they plan to record their first album. It’s a shock for Jon who imagined he was just filling in for another one night stand, but at this point he can’t just take the bus home, so he waits to see what will happen.

By this time Jon has been introduced to the band members. Most importantly there is Frank (Michael Fassbinder), the lead singer and songwriter who wears a large hollow cartoon head made from fibreglass at all times. The impracticalities of this are quickly raised by Jon, but brushed aside by Don, assuring him he will just have to accept it. At this point the movie firmly announces a mythic or Surreal tone. We’re not really talking about an actual person now, more a symbol. Frank is the unknowable face or head behind the band’s originality. He is the mysterious creative genius that Jon can never hope to be. He is unfathomable on the most obvious level but this also implies some pretty severe personality problems. Don also confides he got to know Frank in a mental hospital (where Frank also wore the cartoon head). So that’s two of them with a history of mental illness. The other members of the band are an older American woman named Clara - or Klara, in the subtitled print I saw - (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a somewhat temperamental and domineering presence, and at some level Frank’s soul mate. Then there is Baraque (François Civil) a surly French guitarist and Nana (Carla Azar) the morose Hispanic drummer, both deeply resentful of Jon’s inclusion in the band and possibly an item.

Jon tries to interest the band in his own songs but they pretty much ridicule his anodyne efforts. They are interested in extreme alternatives. It is not that they cannot play standard chord progressions and time scores with familiar song structures, but that they are looking for something else. And once they demonstrate their expertise, Jon is pretty much sold on their sound, no matter how obscure in lyric or discordant in score. Weeks go by and no songs emerge, as Frank records various natural sounds and the band members improvise instruments from available materials and participate in various field games orchestrated by Frank as some sort of bonding. Some of this is presumably inspired by the stories surrounding the recording of early Captain Beefheart albums, where Don Van Vliet did favour rural retreats and strict confinement for his band. But in Frank the lease on the cottage runs out and new tenants arrive. Don breaks down and confesses he could not pay for a longer lease but had hoped they would have recorded the album by now. Jon steps into the breach and offers to use his inheritance to fund the band’s continued stay. Frank somehow persuades the new tenants (a German family) to accept the arrangement. In this way we see Jon drawn into making a bigger commitment to the band, even as he has little influence over their output. As the weeks turn into months and the months eventually into a year, Jon’s inheritance is pretty much exhausted by the time they finish the album.

Curiously there is no talk of what label the album will be released by or in what format and indeed the old analogue recording tapes used in their makeshift studio go unremarked upon, even as Jon uses his mobile phone to video rehearsals and uploads to You Tube. This is where the story strikes problems. The myth of the cerrraaazzzzy band just coming up with stuff, somewhere out there in ideal isolation is one thing, finding their small but devoted audience another. The fact that they were touring the UK in the first place, even at a very modest level, suggests someone has booked them, that they have some sort of profile. But we never get back to that. Instead Don hangs himself upon completing the mastering of the tapes. A lot of the story’s momentum has so far derived from such inexplicable turns but at this point it has painted itself into a corner. They give Don a Viking’s funeral for some reason and then Jon receives an email offering them a gig at a prestigious festival in Austin Texas called South by South West, on the strength of his You Tube postings and accompanying Twitters. The band has not been aware of the You Tube postings inexplicably and is deeply reluctant. But there is no discussion of other plans and it is inconceivable that Frank and Klara will have laboured so long without some plan for the release of the album. But there is just nothing to cover this yawning hole in the story, without digressing into Don’s history nor to explain finance for the trip to Texas or of Jon’s newfound influence in the band.

So there is a massive clunk where the movie falls into two distinct halves. The second half finds them motoring in a much bigger van along the desert highways of Texas (although actually shot in New Mexico) and growing increasingly nervous about their reception. None of this follows from their intensive bonding and rehearsals for a year, nor their blithe disregard for the audience in previous gigs. It just doesn’t follow on any number of levels. They reach Austin and register with the organisers, only to learn their You Tube audience is actually quite small by global standards and that their audience is unlikely to be familiar with their material. Frank offers to do a more accessible love song but the rest of the band are unimpressed by his desperate rendition. Jon persuades him that they should soften their act and make it more pop. But this is just to ignore the year Jon has spent with the band and the development in his taste. Jon is now turning his back on his own You Tube postings? It makes no sense. Really this is the writer trying to draw out another thesis from the story – whereby Jon’s innate banality finally destroys even his association with creativity or originality. But the gears are really grinding now. The rest of the band blame Jon as Frank goes into meltdown and refuse to appear with him (again, since they have rehearsed with him for a year, this just seems unbelievable) and eventually only Frank and Jon appear at the gig and cannot even complete one song without Frank being rendered catatonic.

The two flee to some obscure motel where Jon insists it’s time for Frank to shed his cartoon head and face reality. They fight. Frank flees, is knocked over by a car, shattering his cartoon head and disappears. Jon searches, eventually discovers the rest of the band performing in an empty bar on the outskirts of Austin, Klara now doing the singing. She’s a bit like Jane Wyman channelling Nico or vice versa. Nice gown though. Eventually Jon receives an anonymous tip-off on Twitter concerning Frank’s location in Kansas. He finds Frank’s family home, in a comfortable middle-class suburb and meets his parents, very normal, intelligent people who stoically accept their son’s insanity. Frank is learning to live without his mask, but he is pretty much psychotic. But of course this just begs all those practicality questions about the cartoon head that Jon raised initially only to have brushed aside. How did he shave, cut his hair, brush his teeth? Now we’re expected to take them literally and not surprisingly the whole thing starts to unwind.

Again, somehow Jon brings him back to the bar where the rest of the band are still performing, and Frank edges forward, sheepishly, until the band tacitly recognise him. Frank starts to take stock of his surroundings and speak a little clearer and when Baraque hands down a microphone he slowly gains confidence, as does the band, gradually falling in behind him and augmenting his lyrics, the whole band smoothly synchronising again, rediscovering themselves. This is of course to confirm Jon’s place outside of the band. He might take some credit for reconnecting them, but the message is supposed to be Straight Dudes Just Can’t Go There. Leave The Masks On and Play It By Ear. In other words it’s so lame - a dullard's justification for lack of imagination. Ransom has his reasons of course and his memoir is based on a stint in the Frank Sidebottom band, fronted by the ‘edgy comedian’ Chris Sievey, who really did wear just such a mask - but only for performances. I never saw them but I take it Chris was just a little bit too out there. But the movie was not content with just profiling a psychosis or fond anecdote, as I say it aims for a mythic level and then doesn’t quite know what to do when it gets there. Which is a shame, but the fault lies entirely with the script. All the performances are excellent, the director Lenny Abrahamson and cinematographer James Mather have a great eye for locations, Stephen Rennicks music works, somewhere between 80s-90s The Fall, The Birthday Party, Pere Ubu and maybe Microdisney, to give it a bit of an Irish accent. The film was produced in Ireland for Film Four and the director’s previous feature was reviewed for WWR. (I saw it but couldn’t get into it – something about the posh South Dublin milieu – interesting accent but rugger thugs: just not my scene). :twisted:
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Re: Frank on Netflix

Postby jasperjoffe » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:20 am

Really enjoyed this, found it refreshing fun entertaining and quite moving. Relieved that it was not a biopic of Frank Sidebottom (remember as a child being perplexed by his appearances on TV) and was more an odd band film.
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