Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Plein Soleil (1960)

Patricia Highsmith’s fictional fraudster, Tom Ripley has been interpreted by a number of actors on film over the years; Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), Dennis Hopper in The American Friend (1977) and John Malkovich in the inferior US remake, Ripley’s Game (2002). Yet nobody brings the character to life like Alain Delon in Plein Soleil (1960), his first major film and the first and most superior adaptation of Highsmith’s 1955 novel where Mr Ripley, is brought to life with limitless charm.

Tom Ripley arrives in Italy to convince his playboy friend, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to return to America and take care of the family business. Wrapped up in a world of European excess, Philippe ignores his orders and instead both he and Tom spend their days and nights partying and living in the lap of luxury. Tom, accustomed to his lavish new lifestyle becomes obsessed with Philippe and his girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforet) and begins to emulate his friend and fantasise about taking his place in the world. Phillipe becomes frustrated with Tom’s uncomfortable level of attraction, particularly after catching him wearing his clothes, and he becomes increasingly derogatory towards him.

During a yachting trip, three becomes a crowd when Tom constantly disrupts moments of intimacy between the lovers. Philippe tricks Tom into stepping onto the dinghy where he loosens the rope and leaves Tom floating behind in the blazing sunshine for hours.

Following his rescue, Philippe finds copies of his bank statements among Tom’s belongings and confronts him regarding his motives. Whilst Tom is sleeping Philippe confesses to Marge that he does not know Tom from his childhood at all and he is in fact stringing him along to find out how far he will go. This is both the first Marge, or the audience find out about this, adding a new dimension to the film that creates great suspense in Tom’s simple and innocent picking up of a knife to slice through some salami.

The rescued Tom comes back aboard with strength and a blatant openness on his purpose, first he ensures that Marge finds a ladies earring, that sparks a huge argument between the lovers. Marge demands to go ashore, leaving Philippe to confront Tom, who confesses to his plan flagrantly. Philippe believes his murderous intentions are nothing more than a joke but he is quickly proven wrong. As he returns to shore Tom visits Marge and tells her that Phillipe has decided to stay behind. Tom then proceeds to travel around Italy adopting both Phillip’s personality and the contents of his bank account. Suspicions begin to arise over Phillip’s absence and as the net gradually begins to close in on Ripley, he becomes increasingly precarious.

The initial friendship between Philippe and Tom appears blessed and their drink fuelled intimacy, especially with the lady the pair pick up is wholly convincing. However, without the drink and the excess of city living, the film abruptly tells a different story. Physically, Ripley and Greenleaf are very similar and indeed in personality, as both men willingly fuel one another’s lies. There is a crucial tension that unfolds upon the yacht as the solitude and silence of the ocean helps to reign in the action and makes for a tumultuous and intense journey. Director, Renè Clement in his study of the dangers of affluence, ensures that Ripley’s dark intentions are well hidden, so that when Marge is shocked by Phillipe’s confession, the audience genuinely experiences the same surprise. As Ripley moves further towards the identity theft, the director pits the characters against one another, as they become almost symmetrical in situ and identical in appearance but there can only be one winner in this dangerous game.

Shot in sumptuous sunshine and vivid technicolor, Plein Soleil is an absolute beauty to endure. The locations are lavish and excessive and the crystal cool style of the era flows from start to finish, in costume, design and demeanour. Clement’s influence can be read in other features including The Passenger (1975) , Minghella’s remake and Dead Calm (1989), but none quite capture their contemporary’s virtuoso. Alain Delon is utterly beguiling, and casts his charm on the viewer in the same hypnotic manor that he transfixes the cashier in the film’s bank scene. It’s an understated performance from Delon, cleverly matched by Ronet during their brief and fatal friendship but never touched upon by Ripley’s further incarnations. Ripley’s controlled composure and blatant open-secrecy make for an altogether different beast. Delon, with his effortless charisma adds a remarkable nuance to his role, that literally enables him to get away with murder.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Shout (1978)

A woman wanders down a Kubrickian tiled hallway and uncovers a body laid out on a slab. Then, a solitary devilish figure wanders drunkenly out of focus through a sand covered landscape during the film’s opening sequence. As the theme music gains clarity through near deaf ears, the figure comes storming into focus and reveals himself as an Aborigine shaman brandishing a sharp, threatening object that is soon to be seen again. He is, at once, an imposing presence and although only exposed to him briefly, one is reminded of his powerful impact when cricket player Robert Graves (Tim Curry), is forced into the confined space of the mysterious and chilling Charles Crosley (Alan Bates). 

“He’s not entirely normal” Graves is told, prior to the meeting and normality is defined via the form of two different trees, one symmetrical and aesthetically sound (a symbol of the traditional mainstream filmmaker)  and one twisted and strange (this film’s visionary director, Jerzy Skolimowski). The Shout (1978) is a film of curious parallels. The murderous titular roar happens in the middle of the film and its narrative effect can be read back to the films beginning, or the film’s finale because the shout itself reverberates, mirroring events both before and after it. In visual terms the film could be explained like this… Start((((SHOUT)))))End.

As Graves meets Crosley, the two become framed by the glassless window that dually captures the cricket match underway outside. Crosley begins to tell the story of how he came to possess the supernatural powers that enable him to kill people with one single, powerful shout. His story itself is  told within the cricket match and proceeding events unfold via the imagination of our admittedly unreliable narrator. From hereon in, the film unfolds in the annals of Crosley’s memory, where he tells how he came to impose himself on a husband and wife in a sleepy and remote coastal village. Crosley tells Graves and us, his audience, not to trust his account and confesses to changing the story each time he tells it, thus placing scruples on the audience as well as the characters he proceeds to terrorise.

Antony and Rachel Fielding (John Hurt and Susannah York) wake up on the beach, startled from a dream and with a buckle missing from a shoe, they head off home via the cobblers. Distracted by the shoemaker's wife, who is also his mistress, Antony rushes off home with Rachel. He is reminded of their relationship as two workmen carry a mirror from a building and pause before them, framing their reflection, a virtual wedding photograph of the “happy” couple and a weight on the conscience of the philanderer. Later, following a frolic with his mistress, Antony is surprised when he finds Crosley waiting for him on his doorstep. He invites him inside for dinner where Rachel is introduced to him. He stands before her with a decorative wasp, circling his head, halo style, before spotting a real wasp on their window pane which he promptly crushes beneath his thumb, eradicating any false praise or positive judgement one may have associated with his character. After a timely migraine attack at the dinner table, the guest of horror ends up staying with the couple for a few days. It is not a comforting scenario as Crosley tells of his life in the outback for eighteen years and brazenly confesses to murdering all of his children, a statement which disturbs Rachel, but only due to the shame of her own infertility.

Antony, a sound effect specialist and church organ grinder, is fascinated by Crosley’s claims of a magical shout and agrees to follow him into the sand dunes to witness the deadly effect for himself. Here we are presented with a collector and creator of sounds and his clash with the real deal. Bates is incredible as Crosley. He is monstrous and charismatic in equal measures. The Shout subverts all we know of the actor. Following the intensity of his shout, we see a shepherd and his equally lifeless sheep lying dead on the sand almost as if director Jerzy Skolimowski, is somehow attempting to bury Bates’ former memorable self (his famous role as Gabriel Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd (1967)) whilst presenting the viewer with something completely new and refreshingly unique. Both physically and in the intensity of his gaze, Bates frightens fellow characters and the audience as the protagonist, he lurks behind corners or at the foot of the bed spying on Antony, his presence sends a shiver down the spine, as does the savage tone of his unpredictable words. 

Polish director, Skolimowski who was also responsible for the brilliant British / West German drama, Deep End (1970) fortifies a composition that is both intelligent and intricate. Perception is manipulated throughout, as on many occasions characters are captured whilst framed by windows, mirrors and door-frames. A photograph of the Francis Bacon painting, Paralytic Child Walking On All Fours in Antony’s sound-studio, which is brought to life on a couple of occasions with cricket player (Jim Broadbent) and Rachel, recreating, without boundaries, the suddenly frightening pose.

Francis Bacon's painting and Suzanne York mirroring the pose.

The framing often acts as a cage for Crosley’s untamed beast and it unnervingly toys with the viewer’s acuity of events. Discomfort is created via the film’s surreality and the countless layers of ‘looking’ that encapsulate the viewer into the film’s very heart. Initially we watch Crosley, watching the cricket, he then invites viewers into his mind and hypnotically so, as his eyes fade away to reveal what’s going on beyond them. American Novelist, Arthur Herzog once said, “The Universal narrator knows all and can enter a character’s head any time he chooses.” Thus bringing the focus back to Skolomowski, whose vision, which takes the vein of the strange and twisted tree, dominates all. Within Crosley’s thoughts there are scenes of Antony, ostensibly alone but in recalling that this is Crosley’s account, we consequently know that he is in fact being watched, then as a lone arm lurks around a corner to let down a bike tyre, the audience is pushed back to spy on Crosley. Therefore, for the duration of the film, the audience is forever in bed with the unreliable narrator, with the universal narrator ensuring that it is always bewitchingly uncomfortable. 
Examples of "framing" within the The Shout. 

Regardless of its title, The Shout is a very quiet masterpiece that lays dormant beneath the noisy legacy of films of a similar guise such as Don’t Look Now (1973). Stylistically, both films complement one another perfectly, with the latter perhaps relying more on assertive shock-value to bring the scares. The Shout, on the other hand is more subtle in its approach, and opts to tickle the deep psychological fears of its audience, creating insidious chills. Void of traditional shocks, jolts and jars associated with the horror genre, The Shout, filmed in a British realist style reminiscent of Lindsay Anderson (If (1968) Britannia Hospital (1973)),  is a more formidable and sinister affair that, thanks to Bates’ disturbing performance and Skolomowski’s scrupulous direction, creates the strange impression that you are not only watching the film, but Crosley, in a pseudo-spiritual guise is somehow watching you too. And then, once more, completing the film’s loop, a woman wanders down a Kubrickian tiled hallway and uncovers a body laid out on a slab.

Don't Look Now (1973) and The Shout (1978)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Passenger (1975)

Michealangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975) is one of those special films where the director manages to create a unique and haunting sense of place, prior to introducing his characters. As the lead wades his way into the shot, through challenging sand dunes in the film’s opening scenes, the pace is set for the rest of this intelligent and innovative thriller.

Initially a tale of identity theft, the film also explores notions of truth, coincidence and fate, not only within the film, but also in the viewers perception of events.  Jack Nicholson, plays David Locke, a Gonzo documentarian living in Africa, whilst attempting to complete a job on Chad rebels overcoming the oppressive government. In his lodgings he meets charismatic stranger, Robertson (Charles Mulvehill). The two strike up a close friendship, but when Locke finds his friend lifeless on his bed, he decides to escape from the misery and trappings of his own life, by assuming the dead man’s identity.

Up to this moment, the film offers no musical score, just the breath and the breeze. As Locke gets to action, hacking away at the photograph in his passport, audio of the mens' initial introduction overlaps and it’s here where, Antonioni uses the sway of the camera to transport the viewer back and forth through time, until a clear picture of their relationship has been painted. As Locke hovers above Robertson’s body and stares into his eyes, there is a level of ambiguity, both in the nature of their relationship and the circumstances surrounding the death. Later, the nameless “girl” played by Maria Scheneider, will reverse this move on Locke himself, signalling his fate.

Leaving Africa for Europe, Locke finds himself in meetings with gunrunners and becomes aware that he has assumed the identity of a dangerous man. Having dumped his old life, in exchange for one much worse and with greater complications, Locke (now Robinson) finds himself being investigated by his wife, who believes Robinson may have information on the cause of death.

Short on traditional “action”, the film relies on mounting tension via Locke’s angst and the net that slowly closes in on him. Reading similar to Patricia Highsmith’s tales and no doubt, casting influence on Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), the viewer is asked to sit back and witness the protagonist bury himself alive.

It sounds like a slapstick affair, a hopeless fool on the run with a disastrous assumed identity but Antonioni’s direction and a brilliantly charismatic performance from Jack Nicholson make this thriller something else. The Passenger is intriguing from start to finish, fantasy and reality repeatedly and disastrously clash throughout. Locke is a discontented soul who runs away from his life and tries, yet fails, to run away from himself. Although finally liberated, he eventually learns that the grass isn’t always greener and ultimately leaves us behind bars, losing himself to the other side forever and completely.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Grunge on Film: Gun Crazy (1992)

1992, the year following the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind and the year bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney jumped on the bandwagon and increased in popularity, ‘Grunge' was a term that had been gradually introduced into the mainstream and one year on, was fast becoming commercialised. This was the year that Cameron Crowe coughed up Singles (1992), Hollywood’s attempt to encapsulate their understanding of grunge on the big screen and what an embarrassment that was too. Cameo’s from key figures of the scene including Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder were shoehorned into the movie in an attempt to up the zeitgeist, yet these latecomers only added to the film’s overall contrivance making the whole effort completely misguided. That same year, a small, independent film was released, starring Drew Barrymore, a regular in the tabloids back then, Gun Crazy (1992) was released with little fanfare and with no association whatsoever with the term “grunge”. The film is no masterpiece, yet in hindsight it fortuitously captures the essence of that bygone era, perhaps more so than any other movie ever claimed to. 

Barrymore plays Anita, a troubled young outcast. Ostracised at school and sexually abused at home, Anita is desperately lonely and has no concept of optimism. Her teacher sets an assignment, encouraging the students to correspond with a pen pal and Anita soon begins a long distance relationship with a prisoner named Harold (James LeGros). The compassion within the letters enables Anita with a newfound confidence, allowing her the ability to stand up to her abusive step-father (Joe Dallesandro). Harold expresses an interest in guns. Keen to keep in with him, Anita begins to take lessons from her step-father, much to his detriment, as his lights are swiftly put out, with a well aimed bullet to the back of the head. Upon his release from prison, the two meet up and a whirlwind romance ensues along with an increasing body count of wrong-doers, things, it seem can only get worse for the perilous soul-mates. 

Directed by Tamra Davis, the film has a distinctly dull aesthetic which complements the grit in the plot. The landscapes are filtered, adding permeation to Anita’s pessimistic and inescapable lull. As the couple are brought together through their letters, the imagery overlapping the spoken narrative allows the viewer to see both how inordinately sexual Anita has become, and how she sees herself in the wake of the abuse she has suffered. Harold’s obsession with guns, we soon discover,  is a form of compensation for his impotence. When the pair initially meet, Harold presents Anita with a painting of two silhouettes. Following a later kill, Davis brings the painting to life beautifully. With dirt on the lens, the two bond over a shallow grave. This naturalistic couple were very much meant to be, unlike say Micky and Mallory, the cartoonish couple of Oliver Stone’s gratuitous Natural Born Killers (1994). Whilst the protagonists would, as the title suggests, be considered as crazy, cold hearted killers, their histories and the vulnerabilities the actors express in their performance allow you to empathise with both them and their tragic circumstances. This is not a film about a pair of gun slinging, callous love birds, at its core, Gun Crazy is an allegory on the dark consequences of abuse. Barrymore is perfectly cast as Anita. Only sixteen at the time of filming, she brings crucial vulnerability to the role as well as the essence of the hyper-sexualised, girl-gone-wild constitution that had been created on her behalf by tabloid magazines of the late 80s and early 90s. 

LeGros, as Harold, plays a subtle second fiddle, seemingly aware that this is definitely Barrymore’s film and Warhol’s famous poster boy, Joe Dallesandro adds a spurt of kudos as Anita’s step-father. The locations used within the film, sit comfortably with what we now recall of the grunge era; derelict buildings line the streets, characters live in trailers and the kids favourite hang-out is a rubbish dump. The costumes are also notoriously of the time as characters wear plaid shirts, second-hand suits, dungarees and denim and the true beauty of it is that it is all entirely incidental. Davis had previously worked on Sonic Youth’s Goo videos along with fellow upcoming director Todd Haynes and had subconsciously continued to capture the spirit and pessimistic attitude of the era. The understated soundtrack features Suicidal Tendencies, Sonic Youth, Helmet and Grunttruck, again, not to make this a “grunge” film, just because of the period. By no means is Gun Crazy note perfect, but if you’re looking for a truly authentic slice of grunge pie, Tamra Davis unintentionally made it and its taste remains judiciously bittersweet. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Cult Film Review: Boom (1968)

Legendary power-couple, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor star in Joseph Losey’s critical snivel, Boom! (1968) Adapted from the play, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams, the film is showing as part of the John Waters Retrospective at BFI Southbank, as one of the director's favourite movies. Boom! tells the story of a terminally ill woman and a mysterious young poet intent on getting his greasy mitts on her bulging purse. Sissy Goforth (Liz Taylor), is an isolated maiden, a ticking time bomb living in the lap of luxury on her own private island, with staff to rub oils into her back, pass her fancy drinks and to transcribe her mundane memoirs. Christopher Flanders (Richard Burton, in a role written for a much younger man) is a man with nothing, no possessions, no money and no morals. He is thrown from a boat and swims to the shore of Sissy’s island in his black trousers and thick wooly jumper. 

As he scales the cliffs, to her castle, like the prince to Rapunzel, he yells her name.”MRS GOFORTH!” He yells as if beckoning her to lob her locks over the cliff edge. Eventually, his persistent yelling becomes too much for Sissy and she commands her security guard, a vicious dwarf, to set the dogs on him. Flanders finds himself torn to shreds in an unwelcoming environment where wild birds are caged and monkeys are chained and the humans lack reason and self control. Flanders arrives at the right place at exactly the right time, just as Sissy is speaking of the love of her life, who also happens to have been a poet. He then proceeds to sell himself accordingly to her  last requests. Out of the blue and arriving on the shoulders of servants, Sissy is joined for dinner by The Witch of Capri (Noel Coward in a role rejected by an offended Katherine Hepburn) who warns her that there is more to the mysterious poet than meets the eye. Rumour has it, that Flanders is a manipulative gigolo who has a habit of turning up just as ill and wealthy women are on the verge of popping their proverbial clogs. 

Director, Losey described being on set with Burton and Taylor as “Absolute hell”, claiming the pair would both turn up steaming drunk and screaming at one another, which indeed shows in the performance. The dialogue, in parts, is smart and poetic and occasionally delivered with the air of a beat poet, “Then there is when, then!” Yells Taylor or “What’s human or inhuman is not for human decision.” However, amidst the lyrical flow there is a pounding dissonance, whether that be the screams of “yoo-whoo!” as The Witch arrives to dinner, the repetition of “MRS GOFORTH!” as Flanders scales the cliffs or the hilarious outburst from Sissy as she staggers into her waiter, knocking a tray and it’s contents to the floor, “Shit on your mother!” She shouts in one of the film’s verbal highlights. There is a great deal of inconsistency in the film’s soundtrack also. What happens in the scene, never appears to match what’s going on in your ears. The music pounds like a nasty headache that the leads probably woke up with the morning after. Admirably though, towards each point that the music becomes unbearable, either Sissy or Flanders walk over to a mysterious tape deck, press a button and simply switch it off, bringing you back into the room. 

Whilst the sets, scenery and costumes are excessive (look no further than Taylor’s ridiculous Kabuki costume, above), Losey, whose expertise can be witnessed in faultless classics, The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967) somehow manages to keep the drama contained by creating a sense of claustrophobia, amidst a great deal of space. As the relationship between the characters heats up, the performances become histrionic to an increasing extent, which is perhaps due to their excessive consumption of alcohol. Ultimately,  the film could have been highly regarded had the casting been dealt with accordingly. Flanders would have been played by a younger, attractive and enigmatic actor and Sissy, an older, elegant woman. Instead, the leads are played by actors that don’t suit the demands of the roles, making Burton and Taylor appear self-indulgent and incapable. That being said, it’s definitely one to watch but for all of the wrong reasons. Sissy’s mysterious terminal illness, not to be laughed at, is very funny indeed, as it seems she is being slowly killed by a tickle in the throat. The mixture of dirty coughs and groaning porno noises made by Taylor cannot help but raise a smile. As the film nears it’s finale, Losey’s camera backs away, allowing the characters to become fully consumed by their lavish environment. It’s a gritty, shitty, yet highly watchable mess, that unfortunately ends with a cough, splutter and snigger as opposed to the promised titular Boom!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review: It Was You Charlie (2013)

The poster for It Was You Charlie (2013) (above) bares a striking resemblance to the promotional materials that accompanied the release of Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979), which shows an elegant figure of a man floating above a stately home. Here, Abner (Michael D. Cohen), Charlie’s protagonist floats above a boardwalk, but on closer inspection it appears he is suspended by a noose, one of the most memorable props from another of Ashby’s classics, Harold and Maude (1971). The poster is not the only similarity between Emannuel Shirinian’s remarkable film and Ashby’s cult classics.

It Was You Charlie tells the story of a once a successful sculptor and art lecturer who has since become a solitary and suicidal night-shift doorman. Abner was left broken hearted after his better-looking and altitudinous brother, Tom (Aaron Abrams) hooked up with a woman that he was head over heels in love with. On top of this, he is suffering the traumatic effects of a car accident that left the driver of the other vehicle dead. Abner's is almost consumed by the fog of post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts until the day he meets Zoe (Emma Fleury), a young and beautiful taxi driver who encourages him to see the light. As friendship blossoms between the pair, Abner begins to shine some perspective on his affairs, but as the fog subsides not everything is as clear as one would expect. 

The tone of Shirinan’s film immediately suggests that Abner’s problems run deeper than sibling rivalry and they do, yet the audience is invited to laugh at the misdemeanours of our hopeless protagonist, performed perceptively by Michael D Cohen. As mentioned Abner is an amalgam of Chance and Harold from Ashby’s films. You are able to both laugh at him and feel for him in equal measures. A creature of routine, poor Abner’s cycle is broken when he breaks off contact with his brother. Suddenly their annual trip to the cinema to see On the Waterfront comes to an abrupt end when his brother begins a relationship with Madeline, an object of admiration for our reluctant hero. Much like Abner’s mindset the chronology of the film is disjointed with scenes from his past running parallel with his present, creating mystery and intrigue within the narrative. A great deal of thought has been invested in the arrangement of events. Many scenes mirror others, whether visually or verbally. During a conversation with the object of his affection, Madeline (Anna Hopkins), Abner speaks of “moments of big collisions.” There is much significance in the dialogue here and that is tragically realised as the film proceeds.

A film focused on a depressed lead has the potential to be dreary and overbearing, yet the composition and the injection of amusing, light-hearted characters, such as the Tennesee Williamseque widow next-door, prevent this from happening. Director, Shirinian has great taste and shares his influences with pride. Using crepuscular cinematography and the dark imagery of the fairytales: big juicy red apples, distorted reflections and minuscule characters against giant decor, the aesthetic is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s catalogue in its sobriety. Zoe, the taxi driver could be clipped from the cells of Night On Earth (1991). Style aside, this is a film with a warm and ethical centre. Here we are presented with an amusing, hopeless character, the butt of a joke but slowly the layers are peeled back to humanise the laughing stock and create a heartwarming figure with a heartbreaking story and it’s done beautifully. A beguiling and thoroughly surprising film and once Shirinian has you where he wants you, he pulls the ornate rug sharply from under your feet, leaving you in a state of shock and admiration.  It was you Charlie, like its lead is short in length, but big in charm and bursting with heart and soul. But, who’s Charlie? 

Available now on iTunes 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Frank (2014)

Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank (2014) is an altogether different incarnation of the character that a British audience may already be familiar with. Gone is the helium voice and wacky comedic persona of his late night TV show and instead presented here is a sombre, intense artist who just happens to be called Frank and have a large spheroidal head on his shoulders, identical to that of his Sidebottomed brethren. Domhnall Gleeson stars as Jon, a young and hopeless wannabe musician who stumbles into an avant-garde pop band after witnessing their keyboard player attempt to drown himself in the sea. With no practice nor idea of the set-list, Jon joins the band onstage. It is there that he is introduced to Frank (Michael Fassbender) for the first time, albeit briefly before things go awry and he returns to the humdrum 9 to 5 existence he has grown begrudgingly accustomed to.

Jon is unexpectedly invited to join the band once more and unknowingly finds himself at the heart of a forest retreat where his incongruous bandmates intend to record their experimental album amidst personality clashes, sexual encounters and a surprise suicide. Bandmates come accompanied with complexities. Don (Scoot McNairy) has a bizarre debilitating fetish and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has an unmanageable and aggressive temper problem, yet all of the band members are united in their adoration of their talented and mesmerising front-man. After building up a following via social media and YouTube videos, Jon manages to get the band a prolific booking at an American music festival but is the band ready to perform their unique sound publicly and will Frank’s already unfeasibly large head be able to cope with a growing ego?

Based on the memoir by Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare At Goats) who collaborates here with screenwriter Peter Straughen (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the film is a fictional story that’s loosely inspired by the persona of musician and cult comedian Chris Sievey, who died age 54 in 2010 and the creative process of alternative musicians such as Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. The film explores the line between art, creative freedom and a hunger for popularity. It’s all comically told from the perspective of Jon whose internal monologue narrates events as they unfold to hilarious effect. Intelligently, the writers brought forward Frank’s story in order to combine it with the digital age, so as the film progresses so does Jon’s steady online popularity, via Twitter feed and Tumblr updates as they appear on screen. The inclusion of social media ties in well with Frank’s absence of facial expression, his dissociative emotions are expressed via verbal emoticons, brief explanations of what his face is up to under the mask. Basically, Frank is LOL personified, played masterfully by Michael Fassbender, in a performance which manages to emanate beyond the mask, exuding the perfect measure of vulnerability and charisma through body language.

Fassbender is joined by a Rock 'n Roll ensemble cast. Both McNairy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, (who, after her performance in The Honourable Woman, has become a firm favourite) have plenty of meat on their supporting roles and come armed with baggage that makes them dually hilarious and somewhat terrifying. Gleeson, who bares a striking resemblance to Flight Of The Conchords’ Rhys Darby, both in appearance and comic performance, acts as the ambitious protagonist, a new age man, armed with social-media knowhow and grouped with a gang of avant-garde, punk traditionalists. It’s easy to empathise with his ambitious drive as he attempts to coax the uncompromising musicians towards an audience. In all, the film is a wholeheartedly entertaining fragment of madness, that will leave you with “smiley face” and is accompanied by a beautifully cacophonous soundtrack that sounds like a My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division mash-up. Although largely unrelated to what you think you know of Frank Sidebottom, this is a wonderful exploration of artistry and creativity and the scene in which the titular character is unmasked is a quietly heartbreaking tribute to the death of an enigma.

Frank is released on Blu Ray and DVD on September 15th