Frank Zappa's 200 Motels

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels

Everything about Frank Zappa is confusing, surprising and weird. He made music at least tied to psychedelia, but was sober. He was, at heart, a classical musician, but played primarily in a rock setting. Zappa was a perfectionist when it came to his music and performances, putting his sidemen through rigorous tryouts and rehearsals, yet his movie (or attempts at the various unfinished films) seemed thrown together.

And they were.

200 Motels, Zappa’s only completed feature length project, was shot in just under a week and edited together in less than two. There aren’t too many movies that are shot in three weeks, little lone completed in that amount of time. But Zappa’s foray into a visual discipline isn’t really marred by the rough shod, thrown together nature of the project. Instead, it benefits from the treatment.

If 200 Motels was sleekly done and polished, the bizarre imagery and disjointed narrative would seem even more out of touch. That being said, it already doesn’t make too much sense. Instead, the ‘narrative’ functions to hold together a serious of songs that Zappa wrote around the topic of touring the country during the ‘60s. Themes touched upon and revisited include groupie sluts, redneck provocateurs, gettin’ wasted (which has an incredible song attached to it towards the end of the film) and the pervasive desire to be famous.

Beyond the loose narrative – and some pretty good musical performances – the fact that Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr portrays Zappa throughout the film makes it all a bit more entertaining. Not too much, but it’s funny to watch the Brit attempt to approximate the Californian’s speech. It comes off as a Beatle in a wig, but a Beatle in a wig that’s kinda funny.

Oddly enough, though, Ringo wasn’t the only Brit drummer to make an appearance in the film. Keith Moon, from the Who, is dressed up like a lady while making an appearance. And while it’s clear that the character’s a man in drag, it’s kinda hard to tell that it’s Moon. Spooky.

There’s some nudity – those damnable groupies. And they even dance a bit, but neither of the nekkid chicks are too much to look at. Beyond that, though, it’s Zappa’s music that should be the draw here.

In between the sewn together narrative the musical segments, in which Zappa doesn’t appear too frequently, even though he’s playing, are dashed with enough color and psychedelic nonsense as to make them some of the more interesting music vids from the era. A few effects crop up that are most likely easily replicated by this point, but still come off as entrancing.

The songs – not the solos or instrumental work outs – leave a bit to be desired as the lyrical content is compacted in keeping with the pseudo-narrative that drives the flick. A few shots showcase Zappa, but in a confusing sequence, the band leader seems to be sitting behind the drum set. Is it actually Zappa (it’s not too much to guess that he was adept at every instrument)? Maybe. But it also coulda been Ringo. It’s a mystery that doesn’t matter, but is interesting to think about. Kinda like the film itself.