I’d have gone for Stallone: Let Me be Frank, or even Stallone Again Naturally, but however you title it, I’m happy to stan for Frank Stallone, and this new documentary shows exactly why that should be. Frank Stallone is a singer, writer, raconteur, and on this evidence, all round good guy who seemingly can’t be seen, referenced or mentioned without some reference to his actor brother. The brothers Stallone went to their in-house director Derek Wayne Johnson to put together this relentlessly upbeat 73 minute infomercial/documentary about Frank’s struggle to be himself in the shadow of a mega-star brother who admits that Frank is ‘every bit as good as I am.’ You might come to scoff, but Frank Stallone’s story is a genuinely interesting one, and the way this doc turns out has a number of points of interest for friends and fans of the family.
Frank and Sylvester were the sons of a hairdresser, and the section of the doc that you might expect to be about Frank’s wild years as a writer and musician is largely dedicated to the development of his hairstyle. Frank is described as a ‘pure talent’ who started out as a delinquent, but manages to find a platform for this music with the band Valentine, named after a leather belt that Frank likes so much he thinks ‘I’ll change my name to Valentine!’ They can be spotted establishing their street credentials singing acapella around barrels in the first Rocky film, but Frank struggles to find his own way as an artist. A big break comes when Sly decides to direct the 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive and finds himself short of hits. ‘They were musical gods but they were coming up with ok songs,’ says Sly somewhat critically of the Bee Gees, and despite the original having the most popular musical soundtrack of all time, Sly decides that Frank should step in to write and perform the songs for the soundtrack. That soundtrack got a Grammy nomination, as did the theme song; Far From Over is a propulsive, motivational anthem that I still play at the gym to this day; even if this song was his sole contribution to popular culture, the records show that Frank Stallone would have contributed more than most.
‘What will Frank Stallone’s legacy be?’’ is the weighty question asked here; a plethora of big-names are wheeled out to wrestle with the answer, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Talia Shire, Burt Young and Billy Dee Wlliams, plus musical greats like John Oates and Ritchie Sambora, plus a dash of Joe Pasquale and even Joan Severance, credited as a ‘Black Scorpion’. After delivering such mind-mashers as the Rambo II theme Peace in Our Life, Frank Stallone cannily re-invented himself as a lounge-cabaret singer and found a growing niche for his talents, although a look back at the 80’s and some pop missteps including rootsy tootsy single Darlin’ so just how far he’s had to come for credibility.
Bonuses here include an unexpectedly ferocious boxing match between Frank Stallone and talk show host Geraldo, a successful brush with serious acting in Barfly, and a short but sweet epitaph for Frank’s hero Harry Neilsen ‘He abused himself but he was a great artist and a wonderful guy.’ Frank Stallone, by contrast, takes good care of himself; ‘an artist has to be in a constant state of inspiration’ we’re told as to the reason why Frank has never settled down romantically, so one presumes that the single life is the only one that offers true creativity to pure talent. Whether that’s true or not, Frank Stallone deserves a little celebration, and this doc provides an ideal way to focus our minds on a brother that’s like no other; larking about for the camera in the final scene shows that the Stallones’ haven’t lost their sense of humour, and that’s true of this aimiable film too.