An extensive and at times exhausting but for the most part entertaining look at Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention Mk II. Tracking the changes from 1969 when Zappa, after completing his much acclaimed solo album Hot Rats, decided it was time to disband his original band and get musicians who could better cater for his widening musical tastes through the heavy touring days of the early 70s, the overly ambitious and ultimately disappointing 200 Motels project and the demise of Mothers Mk II, this is definitely a film for Frank fanatics.
With the usual cast of sycophantic Zappa biographers, ex members of the band and even 200 Motels director Tony Palmer there is some great insight into what Frank was trying to do during this period even if at times he didn’t quite succeed. Ex Turtle Mark Volman (he of Flo & Eddie) probably provides the best insights into what Zappa was attempting and with contributions from Mothers – Aynsley Dunbar, Ian Underwood, George Duke and Jeff Simmons you get a real sense of the times and the music. Unfortunately there is also Ben Watson who seems to have a blindspot when it comes to Zappa and who can’t see anything wrong with anything Frankie boy ever did or attempted to do. When he and fellow biographer Billy James start drooling over 200 Motels you know they’ve lost any objective view!
Zappa and his band managed to cram a lot into a very small time frame but in the end you are left wondering if perhaps he was trying to get too much done and would have been better slowing it down and finishing projects properly. 200 Motels for example was filmed in 6 days and had to be cut, chopped, dropped and rewritten on the run, no wonder it makes no sense. Then there were the live albums – Live At Fillmore East 71 and Just Another Band From LA (which featured Billy The Mountain, another failed film idea).
The jokes and sexual innuendo were wearing thin by then and with the infamous fire in Montreux, as chronicled by Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water and then a gig in December 1971 where Zappa was knocked off the stage by an overzealous fan, breaking his ankle, rib and damaging his larynx, the band’s days were numbered. In fact Flo & Eddie got their own record deal, taking a couple of the Mothers with them and Frank, after being laid low with his injuries, got back to the jazz fusion of Hot Rats, with his albums Waka/Jawaka and Grand Wazoo, kick starting the next phase of his career.
With lots of stock footage, musical snippets and talking heads, this is as I said, definitely a film for Frank fanatics and while the casual fan will probably be overwhelmed there are some gems in this 157 minute documentary but frustratingly the snippets of live footage just tend to leave you wanting more, much more.
Contributors biographies and a featurette: On the Road : Mother Memories.
Frank Zappa – Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers is available on DVD from MVD Visual.