Lenny Abrahamson is the director of Frank, a comedy drama inspired by the late Chris Sievey’s comic persona.
This is what happened when he spoke to journalist and author Mick Middles about their take on the surreal character and putting Michael Fassbender behind the mask.
THERE is a moment, and it is only a moment, towards the end of Lenny Abrahamson’s courageously existential film, Frank, that takes my breath clean away.
This ‘flash’ occurs when lead actor Michael Fassbender, having finally lost his Frank head following a collision with a speeding car, stands in a room at his parents house and twists himself gently towards the camera.
Right there…right in that split second, I glimpse the sight of Frank Sidebottom’s creator, Chris Sievey. It is in the light, in the face in the hunch of the shoulders. Not sure anyone else has noticed.
“You know what…I am pretty sure I know the moment you mean,” said director Abrahamson.
His disembodied Irish tones skipping through the phone from – where else? – L.A, where he is currently casting for his forthcoming cinematic venture, Room.
I tell him that I found the film to be compelling and, although dark clouds drift around the edges, full of shards of brilliant with, no doubt injected by writer, Jon Ronson.
“So pleased to hear that,” he admitted.
“It is the kind of film that could so easily have been a disaster. We had no way of knowing whether having a movie where the lead character’s face is hidden inside a huge head, could possibly work.”
The film, released in the UK back in May, is now steadying itself for exposure to US audiences on August 22.
It is, to say the least, an abstract and difficult sell. Ronson’s official line, that is ‘Inspired by Frank but not actually about Frank’, has not necessarily cleared the fog.
I wonder if Abrahamson, when presented with the initial script, immediately ‘got it’.
“I took me a long time to decide to do it,” he admitted.
“But sometimes you just have to take the chance. As it turned out, the majority of people tend to understand it straight away.
“There was a bit of unrest from a few of the hardcore Frank Sidebottom fans in the UK, (I bet) but I think in general the reaction has been extremely positive.”
Fassbender’s performance is spectacular. Somehow, though the distance of that head, he conveys the twin artistic pillars of vulnerability and uniqueness. I wonder if the actor had studied the real Frank in preparation for the role.
“Michael says not,” explained Abrahamson.
“He wanted to used the concept of the head to create his own thing…and he is such an exceptional talent, that he succeeded and, I think, discovered something of himself. There are two ways of watching the film.
“Either you fall for Frank and go with his aesthetic flow or you kind of project your own emotions onto that head.”
* Frank will be released on DVD on September 15. Mick Middles, a former Warrington Guardian writer, is the author of Frank Sidebottom: Out Of His Head, the official biography of the late Chris Sievey.