Zappa (2020)
November 28, 2020 5:51 PM - Subscribe

With the help of more than 10,000 dedicated Zappa fans, this is the long-awaited definitive documentary project of Alex Winter documenting the life and career of enigmatic groundbreaking rock star Frank Zappa. Alex also utilizes in this picture thousands of hours of painstakingly digitized videos, photos, audio, writing, and everything in between from Zappa's private archives. These chronicles have never been brought to a public audience before, until now.

Currently sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“'Zappa' foregrounds the laudable and often astonishing aspects of the man’s work and personality. A self-taught musician with a near-maniacal work ethic, over the years he came to regard his efforts in rock ’n’ roll as a day gig, necessary to support his more ambitious composing efforts. Despite his personal aloofness, he continues to inspire the musicians who worked with him; in interviews, the guitarist Steve Vai and the pianist and percussionist Ruth Underwood get very emotional when contemplating his loss." New York Times

“'Zappa,' Alex Winter’s haunting documentary about Frank Zappa, ... is a movie that plunges into the Zappa legend and touches, one way or another, on just about every aspect of his life and career. It’s a multimedia immersion, filled with rare footage of Zappa from his teenage years on and assembled with the loving dexterity we’ve come to expect from Alex Winter as a filmmaker. When Winter takes on a subject like this one, he doesn’t just explore it; he surrounds and penetrates it. Yet what surprised me about 'Zappa' — it’s the source of its emotional power — is that the movie insists on seeing Frank Zappa not from the outside but, rather, in the way that he saw himself: as a deadly serious and obsessive aesthete-musician in freak’s clothing, a man consumed by breaking out of what he viewed as the shackling boundaries of the pop-music business. Variety
posted by vverse23 (6 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My heart broke seeing Frank at the Synclavier. Digital was just about to explode, and with just a few more years he could have started to see a lot more more of his visions all the way through.
posted by whuppy at 6:31 AM on November 29, 2020

I’m very interested in seeing this as Zappa the man has always fascinated me. My brother is a huge fan and so I was exposed to most of his music throughout my teen years. For me, the Mothers of Invention years are the true gold standard. The music was innovative yet enjoyable and the humor was sharp yet playful. After the late 70s it gets dicey: the humor gets crass and too-on-the-nose and the music gets dull and self indulgent. I’m much more interested in what he had to say about art and culture and politics in the post-Reagan years than in any of his musical output from that era. So I hope this doc shines some light on that aspect of his life.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Zappa the man also interested me for a long time. This doc doesn't really shed a whole lot of light, imo. Not any more than I'd already known. He remains the self indulgent kind of iconoclast who seems to exude contempt for his audience, and loved making music that's largely impenetrable to all but the almost cult-ish hipster. His dedication to his muse still seems more like character flaw than virtue.

And I'm someone who actually enjoys much of his music!

If anything, this movie drives home how much his muse relied on the zeal and tenacity of a few key unwavering supporters. Without whom Zappa would have been just some asshole yelling at clouds.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:38 PM on November 29, 2020

Two of my favorite bands, Primus and Phish, have cited Zappa as a major influence so his music is something I've always meant to explore. I've known very little about him or his music, beyond Valley Girl and maybe Peaches en Regalia so I was very interested in this film. I came away from it not really liking him as a person very much and not really knowing much more about him other than the fact that he smoked constantly.

As for the music, I assumed with a couple exceptions that all the clips I heard were Zappa tunes. There was nothing, nothing at all, that made me want to hear more. Everything sounded like it was just trying to be different but not necessarily good. And, as I said, I'm a Primus fan so I'm all about different.

I thought it was a well made film and I'm glad I watched it and now I don't need to know anything more about Zappa.
posted by bondcliff at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bondcliff, although I liked the documentary a lot, I don't think it really conveyed the music as much as it did the musician, and Zappa could be, shall we say, prickly and aloof. And although his musical output was all over the place, there's some real treasure to be found there. I'm a fellow Primus and Phish fan and notice his influence in their music regularly. If you care to dive in, maybe check out a live concert film such as Baby Snakes or check out one of his better known albums. Better yet, if we ever get to see live shows again, go see Dweezil.
posted by vverse23 at 10:29 PM on December 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I felt the documentary glossed over so many areas of his life and musical landscape. That said, there were just vast amounts of creations by a workaholic who was a unique voice in the media he dedicated himself toward [covered], but an iconoclast curmudgeon [covered] who at once brushed away and embraced his celeb status [covered]—and maybe not such a great family guy [glossed over somewhat].

I love Zappa the musician. I love what Zappa the politician stands for, but begrudge his smugness. The other areas of his life are his own and his family's to deal with; I know nothing about that and haven't dug into that. Mainly I love Zappa and the Music. This gave me a good idea of how the sausage was made, via various angles. I liked how Steve Vai could break it down as to just how complex Zappa's shit was, without dragging you into the weeds—the documentary as a whole was good at that: giving you a glimpse of the uniqueness of the music and the machinations and the effects of it, without dragging you into the weeds. (Because there were weeds aplenty they didn't even mention!)

But I also like how they covered how rock was just the genre he pulled ensembles together in order to pay the bills, but also that he really was a composer without a fixed genre. Which is quite rare. I actually love the shit he did on synclavier, it is like exciting video game music to me.

Anyway, even with the stuff they just completely missed, I did like watching this, and learned a great deal. Excellent work, Bill S. Preston! I am truly grateful! Be good to everyone! [That's a reference to the director also being a cultural icon in his own way. dweedledeedledeedledeeee]

Amazon Prime is also streaming, for absolutely free, a lot of Zappa video and some recuts of old "lost" masters like their three-night residency at the Roxy in 1973. I recommend it—It was a blast to watch. I will probably catch another before COVID's over. For now, I'm watching the Captain Beefheart Documentary (also on Amazon Prime for free).

I wish to close by saying I discovered Zappa vis Dr. Demento, and was singing "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" when I was 11, and without really understanding what I was singing. I begged my parents to let me go see Zappa when he played at Winter Island Park in Salem, MA, 8/31/1984. They wouldn't let me. I still hold a little black pebble of coal in my heart for their decision. That said, the set list, from today's viewpoint, would be PROBLEMATIC AT BEST. The end.
posted by not_on_display at 11:53 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

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