In real life, Frank Sidebottom was a character created by British artist Chris Sievey, who performed live with a large, cartoonish papier-mache head on. His character was a bit Pee Wee Herman, singing in a reedy high register like he had a clothespin on his nose. The music was played on children’s instruments, but he covered major pop hits of the day — the mid-1980s through the ’90s. For those growing up in the UK during that time, he was an affectionate satirist, the music of working-class cul-de-sacs and corner newsagents, a contrast with the shiny business offices of the pop world.
However, in the fascinating and rather inspiring new movie “Frank,” we get a knowingly glamorized version of the story, but so far from the truth that it can hardly be called poetic license. Instead, director Lenny Abrahamson and writers Peter Straughan and former Sidebottom band member Jon Ronson have created a fantasy around the myth of the troubled genius. Behind his mask, Frank stands for all kinds of famous outside musicians, whose creativity gets tied into their mental illness. Yet it’s also a musing on the wonder of making music in a band, and in certain scenes the cast really captures that magic of when noodling turns into a song and a song turns into something transcendent. (The cast, apparently, really did jam and created the songs heard in the film, and it’s a thing of wonder that what comes out really does sound unlike anything I’ve heard before.)