Greetings again from the darkness. “More people know my face from a poster or a TV interview than have heard my music.” It’s an odd quote and one that probably doesn’t fit any rock star other than Frank Zappa. Director Thorsten Schutte provides a no-frills look that is equal parts tribute for Zappa fans, and introduction to those who are unfamiliar with his life, words and work.
It’s always been challenging to categorize or even describe the music of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Rarely utilizing traditional melodies, “experimental” may come closest, though most of his 60 plus albums were lumped into the Rock section. It certainly wouldn’t be considered mainstream, though he did have a cult like following for decades.
Schutte’s straightforward documentary approach uses only existing concert footage and interviews with Zappa (across the years). Plenty of music is provided to allow any first time listeners a chance to get a feel, but it’s Zappa’s own words that are most fascinating. He is mostly an open book … honest and forthcoming about his many opinions. He has been labeled as irreverent and offensive, but I prefer to view him as an observationalist or theorist … and a highly intelligent and articulate one at that.
Should one doubt his commitment to the music, listening to him elaborate on the distinction between artistic and business decisions should end the debate. As a married man with 4 kids, it’s enlightening (and surprising to some) to hear his editorials on drugs, the music business, the media, and even politics. Many will remember his Senate battles going head to head versus Tipper Gore in her quest for warning labels on music. Zappa viewed this as censorship and eloquently stated the case as protection for artistic freedom. Schutte presents not just footage from the hearings, but also follow up interviews that Zappa participated in.
He died of prostate cancer in 1993, and his band was an ever-changing ensemble over the years, but Frank Zappa never shied away from speaking out against attempts to stifle the rights of artists, and he was a trail-blazer in utilizing a computer for composing music. He also directed films and videos, wrote editorials, and in a fascinating development, was hired as a cultural consultant for Prague … yet another piece of the unique life and career of Frank Zappa. “For Gail” indeed.
watch the trailer: