Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Frank: How to Get a Head in the Music Business
is sort of the Glenn Gould of indie rock. He is determined not to let
superficialities, like his face, distract from the music. Nonetheless, the
uni-named Frank’s gigs are uniformly disastrous. He might very well be a musical
genius, but it will be overshadowed by the chaos that follows him in Lenny
Abrahamson’s Frank (trailer here), opening this
Friday in New York.
is sure there is a tortured songwriter somewhere within him, but he is really
just a decent middleclass suburban chap (something the film considers rather
tragic in its own right). He can at least pound out the chords on his keyboard,
which is more than enough for him to “luck” into a temp replacement gig with
the Soronprfbs. Yes, that is unpronounceable, that is part of the joke.
turns out the Soronprfbs are fronted by Frank, just Frank, a real deal tortured
singer-songwriter who never removes his large papier-mâché head. Although most
of the band immediately dislikes Jon, dismissing him as a poser, Frank takes a
shine to the eager outsider. Even though the gig predictably descends into
bedlam, Frank offers him a permanent position in the band.
he realizes it, Jon is holed up with Soronprfbs in their rustic Irish cabin,
working (supposedly) on their new album. Despite the efforts of Clara, Frank’s
gatekeeper, to send him packing, Jon is soon underwriting the band’s madness
with his inheritance. He is also documenting it all via tweets and youtube.
be fair, Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Frank.
Obviously, he is laboring under unusual conditions for an actor, since he is unable
to use facial expressions throughout most of the film. Largely relying on body
language, he still eloquently expresses Frank’s tickiness and volatility.
something about the film just does not sit right. It is not just Jon’s
compulsive tweeting and hash-tagging constantly flashing across the screen,
making Frank feel so two years ago.
Anyone who knows working musicians will be turned off by the spectacle of such self-defeating
behavior. No professional musician would act like this, because they are
Frank and the Soronprfbs are profoundly undone by their excesses. Indeed, Frank the film depicts the dark side of
quirkiness, clearly suggesting right from the start Frank the character is not
merely eccentric, he is genuinely sick. Yet, that close association of talent
and madness is a pernicious cliché that poorly serves promising musician
struggling to make it on the scene.
British audiences might recognize Frank as a fictionalized cousin of musician-comedian
Chris Sievey’s stage persona Frank Sidebottom, he is largely his own
bobble-headed man for American viewers. However, the film’s frequent tonal
shifts will makes it difficult to come to terms with him. The rather bland
stock figures augmenting the rest of the Soronprfbs (including the tiresomely
shrewish Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clara) provide little help.
On paper, Frank
has the makings of a cult classic (“Fassbender Sings! In a Big Fiberglass
Head!”), but the concept just doesn’t click. Maybe it is too indie and not
enough rock. Fassbender puts on a clinic with his famous features tied behind
his back, but Frank still rings
hollow when it opens this Friday (8/15) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: Michael Fassbender, Papier-Maiche Heads