Debbie Melnyk & Rick Caine
Published Sep 01, 2001
"Frank" magazine makes it their business to keep everyone else on the straight and narrow. No matter what your position politician, journalist, celebrity of any arena you're never above ridicule or closer examination. For over a decade they have been piercing egos and public images with their none too polite tactics. The makers of "The Frank Truth," Rick Cain and Debbie Melnyk, spent two years with the magazine's staff, interviewing journalists and those who have appeared in its pages. Despite a very cheesy opening (a dramatization of someone approaching the office with a gun), the film is as amusing, annoying and frustrating as the magazine itself. Love them or hate them, the writers at "Frank" seem unafraid of anyone's opinion and will say whatever they like. The filmmakers ask the question, Do they go too far?' Does social responsibility in the media mean you must be nice and polite not speak out of turn? Or should you rattle a few cages illustrate the hypocrisy and double standards of public figures? Whether it's offering a contest to "deflower" the Prime Minister's daughter or insisting on referring to Mike Duffy as the "Duffster," "Frank" is intent on pushing buttons and boundaries. Journalism, however, should be more than imparting information such as it is but also the examination of events. "Frank," the magazine, and "The Frank Truth," the movie, both provide information sometimes confusing or conflicting without the necessary analysis. Everything feels like a teaser for the second half that won't be coming soon.
The main focus of "The Frank Truth" is Michael Bate, the editor and brains behind the magazine. We learn the details of his life his childhood memories, days in a band, when he was Pac-man champ, when he created video games based on the comic strip "B.C." and why it's so important to attack public figures for their arrogance. "Frank" magazine would have you believe that ridicule and humour (while claiming to be satire) is the way to illuminate the truth. The biggest problem with this film is that it is more a platform for Bate to vent his theories and humour than the analysis of media fringe and mainstream that it could have been. We come to understand why they attack the people they do and even why they choose to pull the stunts they do but when it's time to investigate how truthful or reliable their stories are, the filmmakers wait until the last 20 minutes and don't provide space for further examination. We're simply left with the fact that Frank will publish rumour and leaked information while not bothering with secondary sources or checking the facts. If it's a good story, they'll go with it. Or that Bate doesn't want to compromise his wife's position as head of Glebe Montessori School. Edward Greenspon refers to it as "Frank insurance" that by paying the high tuition you'll stay out of the pages of the magazine.
There are often things that mainstream media won't say and it takes a publication like Frank to get it out in the open. Some of the journalists interviewed acknowledged that information they can't print is sometimes forwarded to Frank (basically leaving Bate and his magazine with the dirty work) where political correctness definitely takes a backseat. (Several times during the film Bate turns to camera and says, "Don't use that bit people will get the wrong idea" while smiling a little boy smile that he has somehow got away with it.) Bate expresses regret about some of the stories they've published that have hurt people that were proven to be blatant lies but his words are hollow. It's a case of too little, too late. He blames his reporters for not checking facts, claims that he didn't know it wasn't true.
The filmmakers compiled a number of on camera interviews and this works in the film's favour. It's surprising how many people had good things to say about the magazine and felt it held an important place in society. "Frank" often has funny bits and we have to admit that there are times when we laugh because we can't believe someone had the nerve to print it. (Jan Wong's support of their tactics shines a new light on her acerbic "Lunch with" series that appears in the Globe & Mail.) These interviews are also the source of most of the film's humour not necessarily the content of "Frank" or their strategy meetings which come across as simply embarrassing. Three men in a tiny office trying to outwit each other with jokes a 9 year old has heard a hundred times (along the lines of who cut the cheese?'). We see the different ways people handle their inclusion in "Frank." Sven Robinson and Dave Foley have found humour while others, Mike Harris and Mike Duffy, for instance, refuse to even acknowledge the filmmaker's question. This is a nice way to pass the time but the film still leaves us unsatisfied because "The Frank Truth" chose the path of anecdote rather than analysis.
A film about a magazine piercing the double standards of public office (if Mulroney is going to use his daughter as a political tool than why not take it a step further on offer up her virginity?) and the cult of celebrity, should be more willing to point fingers at the attacker. "Frank" should be put to the same test and made to stand against the same ideals that no one is above ridicule or investigation. Why should they get off easy? Perhaps a new contest is in order. Would anyone like to bet on the name of Bate's alien love child or whether he should step out of the closet?