Gail Zappa, Ruth Underwood, Alice Cooper, Bunk Gardner
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A perfect documentary about a musical genius…
If you don’t know much about the late Frank Zappa, you’ll find this doco a fascinating and entertaining introduction to him and his music, but be assured that it’s also a treasure-trove – and revelatory – for even the most diehard Zappa fanatic and completist. Zappa is a rich and expertly edited and interwoven mix of interviews (both current and archival), concert clips, childhood home movies, behind-the-scenes footage and never before seen material from FZ’s own voluminous archives. But, though broadly chronological, it’s not just informative in the strictly factual sense. It comes as close as anyone conceivably could to revealing the essence of the man, warts and all; no mean feat given he could be a contrarian and was notorious for not letting anyone get too close. And, in the words of Mothers of Invention percussionist Ruth Underwood, he was “a walking mass of contradictions” – but consistent about them.
Zappa was phenomenally prolific and productive, to an extent which would have become boringly repetitive in anyone less mindbogglingly eclectic. His music – featured prominently here, of course – incorporated doo wop, jazz, blues, classical, the bizarrely avant-garde and much more, but was ultimately undefinable and unique. Then there’s his wit, his outspokenness and political iconoclasm, and the sheer courage with which he confronted the would-be censors of rock’n’roll. And, speaking of courage, this sworn enemy of sentimentality remained impressively resolute and creative even whilst dying of prostate cancer.
At one point, we hear Zappa saying “We [the original Mothers] were loud, we were coarse, we were strange – and if anyone in the audience ever gave us any trouble, we would tell them to fuck off”. All true – and yet the extraordinary thing is that they were also utterly sublime.
A perfect documentary about a musical genius. What more could you ask for?