|   |  2 min read


Not many people know that when Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band were recording their classic and sometimes frightening album Trout Mask Replica in '69, the good captain (Don Van Vliet) kept the musicians all-but captive in a big house in Topanga Canyon to ensure the job got done to his satisfaction.

Artists often talk themselves into a different environment in the hope of finding their elusive muse, but Beefheart's thing was different.

They rehearsed all day, there were lengthy periods without sleep or food, band members later described their nine months in isolation in terms of brainwashing and psychological torture, and Beefheart “a way more powerful person than Charles Manson” (according to drummer John French aka Drumbo).

There's some interesting comment about all of that in this film but for those not ready to take the deep dive into that particular madness, this film by Abrahamson (Madman DVD) is an amusing and oddball take on determination, dedication, eccentricity and music made in physical and emotional isolation.

The Frank of the title is an American musician (Michael Fassbender) who permanently wears an oversized fake head and creates music that is very far into leftfield. The band he carries consider him a genius but constantly argue or remain mute, or don't speak English.

Into this world arrives an aspiring young songwriter Jon who – desperate to escape his small seaside town in Britain – joins up as a keyboard player and is immersed in this bizarre world.

frankbandThere is an 18 month isolation in a cold lakeside cabin in Wales where, when the money runs out, he (Domhnall Gleeson) hands over his nest egg to keep them afloat.

They reject his songs.

But – despite a suicide, rage, power struggles, some truly horrible music in rehearsals and Frank's inability to settle on a style – they find themselves invited to Austin for a South by Southwest.

How this plays out is variously tragic, farcical, funny and melodramatic . . . and, as Jon our narrator, Gleeson becomes a stronger figure and more in Frank's ear.

There is however, a lot of compassion at the heart of this film. Everyone loves Frank despite never having seen his face. He is a blank page on which others write their story.

frankguitarFrank's passionless “face” stares out of the screen as a strange cipher, a one-man Replacement who makes music that could just be unlistenable.

Needless to say things unravel even further in the critical crucible that is Austin, a city where eccentrics like local boys Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston have been embraced.

From strangeness to sentimentality, Frank the film is a compelling trip.

It is also, however, a comment on how mentally damaged people can come into the music world and their eccentricty is hailed as if it is a gift by legions of people looking for some outside genius . . . and never see the real and often tragic person behind the mask.

Share It

Your Comments

Jeremy - Nov 18, 2014

Great review of a brilliant, hilarious movie. I watched it once and immediately wanted to watch it again. A poignant piss-take of the way too serious world of alternative rock and of the god awful white boy songwriting that aspires to greatness (you know who you are Sheeran and Blunt). And I actually quite liked the music too!

thomo thomson - Nov 23, 2014

Graham I will find the Frank film. Looks fascinating. now bro you check out " Zachariah " . This has the man of no socks, Don Johnson in it as a young man. I can't recall the film exactly, probably full of acid, but it was a ' psychedelic ' feature of the day. 71/72. As you were speaking of the Stones, we all got in various states for the Altamont concert; none of us ever read a paper and got a glimmer of a reality that had anything to do with the regular world. I recall, a blurring impression, that we left the movie house in badtrip shock. It was the slur that cut across the existential elitist position of ourselves as a movement of liberation and personal freedom In later recalls I was shocked to think that there was only a minority of us, a small handfull who thought they were a nation. A thought tho, my 2 best friends whom I see and communicate with regularly are the lads i chummed up with then. Ahh the stories. GRAHAM REPLIES: I certainly know Zachariah -- the trippie Western which featured Country Joe and the Fish among others. A product of its period we might say charitably! In Foreskin's Lament in 1980 NZ playwright Greg McGee observed (correctly in my opinion), “The effect of the Sixties on the great miasma amounted to an extra inch of whisker on the end a Taranaki farmer’s side-board.”

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

PRIVILEGE, a film by PETER WATKINS, 1967 (Universal DVD)

PRIVILEGE, a film by PETER WATKINS, 1967 (Universal DVD)

Set in a dystopian future where the British government and state authorities (as well as organised religion) exercise complete and often subtle social control over citizens, this remarkable film by... > Read more

CORNER GAS (Madman DVD): A whole lot of nothing

CORNER GAS (Madman DVD): A whole lot of nothing

It is a peculiar thing that Corner Gas -- a wry, understated and very droll Canadian comedy series -- isn't screened on New Zealand television. It has many similarities in its humour to that of... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

EPs by Yasmin Brown

EPs by Yasmin Brown

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column by the informed and opinionated Yasmin Brown. She will scoop up some of those many EP releases, in... > Read more

Various Artists: The Ultimate Guide to Scottish Folk (Arc)

Various Artists: The Ultimate Guide to Scottish Folk (Arc)

One of the more annoying and often-repeated comments  in the New Zealand flag debate -- especially on talkback radio from Pakeha and Maori alike -- is that the current one has the... > Read more