Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frank is a Quirky and Revealing Film About Music

Austin’s South by Southwest Music and Art Festival has long been a place where local, regional, and relatively unknown bands are given the chance to reach a wider audience.  Many see playing the event as a turning point in their careers.  With this year’s incarnation having recently come to a close, I figured it was an appropriate time to discuss a recent indie film I watched which deals with exactly this, among other things.  Frank directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Michael Fassbender is the story of a charismatic yet strange band called The Soronprfbs (the name is intentionally confusing).  After their keyboardist has a mental breakdown, the bands manager Don bumps into a young man named Jon who is in aspiring songwriter and performer.  Jon is invited to play with The Soronprfbs that night in town and jumps at the chance to play in a real band.  Lead by Frank, a mysterious yet determined man who always wears a large papermache mask, Jon has the time of his life and is thrilled when Frank invites him to join the band full time and come to Ireland to spend the next year recording their debut album.  Jon wants nothing more than to be famous and he can tell that Frank also wants to pursue fame despite the rest of the bands desire to remain anonymous and play the music that inspires them and only them.  Throughout the course of the year spent recording their album, Jon continually butts heads with band member Clara over the direction the band is taking.  After posting some of the songs online, The Soronprfbs are invited to play SXSW and Jon convinces Frank that this is exactly what they need to break into the mainstream and play music that everyone loves.  Despite Clara and the rest of the band insisting that Frank is not mentally stable enough to perform under such pressures.  Chaos ensues after many loud arguments, several mental breakdowns, and a stabbing which leads to disaster.  The film was an interesting take on the experience of independent bands.  The struggle between Jon’s aspirations of fame and Clara’s need to express herself free of outside influence is representative of the struggle many young bands face, particularly unsigned indie bands.  Frank encapsulates the pressures of pursuing that fame while maintaining your artistic integrity and you come to realize that the whole point of being in a band is to have fun and enjoy yourself.  If that isn’t the most important part, then you’re never going to last.  In this way, Frank ends up less of a character and more of a symbol of the freedom of doing and playing what you want.  Don tells Jon in the beginning that he shouldn’t try and be Frank.  Frank he explains, exists on a creative level that no one could ever hope to match and to try would be folly.  Jon comes to learn this lesson after many mistakes and both he and the viewer realize that self-expression is exactly that: SELF-expression.  It can’t be mimicked or faked.  It has to come from the heart, and Jon realizes in the end that that is exactly what made The Soronprfbs so inspiring in the first place. 

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