To be Frank

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 13:10 24/07/2014

Dark Horse is the film that opens this year's New Zealand International Film Festival - that's Jon Ronsontonight in Wellington. I'm sure it's going to be great, but I'm also sure I've seen the best film from this year's festival.

Well, I've seen the one that's spoken to me, that meant the most to me. A true dark horse too. And that film is Frank.

Now, be warned, this isn't at all about Frank Sidebottom, though it is inspired by his look, his mask and the film was co-written by Jon Ronson. Before Ronson made it in the world as a documentarian, broadcaster and writer he was schlepping about like any hopeful, aspiring creative - and one of his gigs, fleetingly, was playing keyboards as sideman to Sidebottom.

So the film is in part a tip of the hat to that character - but this is pure fiction. Take from what you know, lace traces of your own life in the story, Ronson has obviously done that.

To clarify he's released a book about the making of the film - it's worth reading. If you're a Ronson fan already you'll want to check that slim volume out.

And if the film Frank turns you onto Ronson's world in any way then you could start with his book about Frank before checking out his other works.

I read his behind-the-scenes/explanation around the Frank movie before I saw the film. But I'm sure it would work equally well to read the book after - because it is indeed quite separate.

The book contains no spoilers and doesn't prepare you for the plot of the film, though it offers a few of the themes - it gives background, it plunges you into the real life story of the character Frank Sidebottom played with a lifelong dedicate by British comedian Chris Sievey.

But the film Frank really is something else - you need not know about Sidebottom to enjoy and understand Frank.

Frank is a film that speaks to anyone who has ever had a go at music - and to the many still (and always) trying. Those rags-to-riches stories don't really happen. Those slipped-'em-a-demo-tape/rest-is-history stories don't really happen. Those Lorde stories - they don't really happen. They happen once. Or twice. And then we hear about them forever. They're paraded about and held over us as some version of the truth - something to hope for or possibly even aim toward. But they're never real.

They happen - by fluke. And that is to take nothing away from the people they happen to, but the industry perpetuating the lie that anyone can strike it lucky is the cruel lure that has hooked in far too many. Worse than that it's baited an audience, meaning anyone beavering away on their own - outside of the establishment - isn't actually there because they want to be, they're just not good enough. That's how the eyes of the mainstream see it. And they only see it that way because they've been told to.

Frank is a celebration of music - of music-making, of the kinship and camaraderie. It's a satire too - because in this social media age there's so very little separating celebration and satire. And Ronson has long been a master of presenting information, not judging it himself, but leaving it on the table - allowing the audience to take it sincerely or to attack it with any cynicism they learned elsewhere.

Frank is great for many reasons - its actors, the story, the music - the film's composer Stephen Rennicks will emerge as one of the stars - the off-beat tribute to an offbeat character. But it's also a sad story. Sad because the absurdity of a papier-mâché mask and a character who must hide behind that to protect himself is the most honest thing to happen in telling the story of music-making and the aims and hopes of the creative spirit since the lawyers took over.

We've been screwed ever since the lawyers took over. To Be Frank

To be Frank. That should actually be every musician's dream. You need to see this wonderful film. Here's my review - Frank is part of this year's NZ International Film Festival. I doubt I'll see a better film, one that speaks to me, for me, about the things I care about, this year. Or next.

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