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There is no film quite like 200 Motels, but a lot of its very strange
appearance (especially when viewed on a cinema screen) is due to its
videotape source. (Actually, it isn't the first film released
theatrically, to have been originated on this medium. One of the
versions of Jean Harlow's biography to be released in 1965 used
something called 'Electronovision', which is much the same thing,
although it seems suspiciously like an afterthought over a successful
TV play in that case.) The 1971 double album was my introduction to
Zappa's music, back in 1973, and I first saw this film in 1978, on a
double bill with - wait for it - Annie Hall. Now, that's bizarre. I was
mesmerised by this messy production, but everyone in the cinema,
including my friends, seemed to hate it. Even by 1978, the effects were
dated, and the sound quality left a lot to be desired. However, ten
years later, when I saw the film in on VHS, I scooped it up, and I
still enjoy it.
More satire and music would have been welcome in place of the cast and orchestra being forced to recite childish swearwords, although it must be realised that this is an exercise to defuse the effect of 'bad language', much as Shaw did with Pygmalion (the original play has the word 'bloody' repeated over and over, opposed to achieving the comedy shock effect as in the 1938 movie) There are some very well worked out scenes, such as the stars' dressing-room/racehorse chute sequence, and the dialogue between Jim Black and Theodor Bikel, and maybe sufficient time and budget would have yielded more of the same.
The music was sufficient to launch me into thirty years of collecting Zappa's music, and I still enjoy it today - it's more fulfilling to listen to than the movie is to watch, but the movie is worth seeing, as long as you are not expecting anything too coherent.
In amongst the confusion is a worthwhile film about groupies, and genius, and the sadness, as opposed to the glamour, of the life of rock stars, and I can't help feeling that someone with fifty million dollars to spend could do worse than remake this. It's about time Zappa's output reached a wider audience. Stop remaking films that were fine as they were, you guys. We didn't need another Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton! Do a film about Frank Zappa. Johnny Depp could play Frank!
As a long term Frank Zappa fan, I was really excited when this movie came
out. I admit it's kind of hard to watch - it isn't the movie Frank
He had big problems with the director, he ended up in a protracted lawsuit
with Royal Albert Hall (This conflict raised his costs for the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra) and much of what was supposed to be shot wasn't,
requiring an entirely "different movie" to be made in editing.
It was a joy to see Ringo Starr playing Frank's part, Keith Moon as a nun and of course the music was great. The music was written while Frank was on tour, hence the title.
It was shot entirely on video tape and transferred to film after the special effects were added. I think this was the first feature film done on video tape. The video effects were psychedelic which was a bit odd since Frank was vehemently against drug use.
Should you watch this film? I believe the following questions may be a
decent guide to making this decision.
Are you a Zappa fan who likes many of his different musical phases? If so,
then this is a must. Are you a casual Zappa fan, partial to newer stuff
only? If so, then approach with caution. Do you like very bizarre sequences
put together seemingly at random? If so, this is a must. If you hate that
kind of thing, then you will probably hate this. When in doubt, have a
backup ready so you can switch to that if you lose patience. Oh, and guys
out there, I wouldn't recommend showing this to your girlfriend unless she
is a big Zappa fan. By all means, I do NOT recommend planning a romantic
evening with a girl with standard pop culture tastes that is bookended by
playing her samples of your Magma and King Crimson collection and then
ending with a screening of 200 Motels, not even as an experiment. Trust me,
I have tried this (once) and the results were not good. But I
What do you get from 200 motels? Random weirdness and silliness with a very 1965-1970 feel to it, kind of like a strangely lighthearted feverish dream. You also get some very interesting music of highly variable quality and some great in-jokes that you will find hilarious if you have followed Zappa's career. I will never again be able to drive past a town named "Centerville" (there are lots of these in the midwest USA) without having that Flo and Eddie zombie-like sequence flash through my head. I would certainly not consider this a good film or anywhere close to a good film. But it is certainly oddly interesting.
I watch this remarkable visual document every 5 or 6 months to remind me of the visionary powers of this great composer and musician. Frank Zappa attempts to weld together several totally different worlds of artistic behaviour. There's the nice, successful middle of the road stuff, personalized by Starr and Moon. The traditional Classic music is shown and half-ridiculed. The almost always invisible groupie scene plays it's part (no actresses here, only the real girls)like it did as a short lived musical group the GTO's (the true meaning is lost; some say Girls together only or outrageously) Frank even took one of the groupies ( Miss Lucy ?) into his home to play nanny to his children. Last, but not at all least, are the Mothers. I omit the of invention part as this was the idea of the record company to soften the blow to the female part of America's silent majority. It was the beginning of the Flo and Eddie period, which Frank sometimes explained on stage as the result of a famous DJ saying that he could make the Mothers as big as the Turtles. Well, Frank used to say: If you wanna be as big as the Turtles, have a few Turtles in your band. The movies shows in a half hidden and symbolic way the craziness of the world, the moral dilemma's and the influence of religion on the psychological development of mankind. This is the first big step into Zappa's conceptual continuity idea, which sadly ended with his death. The movie is a monument to his genius.
This is not a movie to see in a normal human state of mind. Zappa didn't do drugs, so if you can achieve a state of Zappa-Zen you might really get off on this film. Because of, or in spite of, my being on nothing, it's had the weirdest effect on me. I can hardly remember anything about it. I saw it in '74. I saw it again just recently. But there's nothing I can tell you. It's like a dream, disjointed and bizarre. A dream you know you had but can't remember. No other movie has ever done that to me. Is that good or bad?
I guess most people would probably absolutely loathe this movie, but
I'm not most people. If you're looking for plot, intricately drawn
characters, thoughtful shot composition, look elsewhere.
Now, if you like to have the video and audio input channels into your cerebrum overloaded from the start, you'll definitely love it. This movie does not relent. I guarantee, if you drop acid first, your brain will be bleeding by the end of it.
I never thought the Flo & Eddie version of the Mothers was the best, but I do think they translated pretty well to the super-color-saturated multi-layered shot-and-mixed-entirely-on-videotape visual paradigm here. Kaylan & Volman are such atypical-looking pop stars (and yes, children, they were indeed pop stars once upon a time, in a band called The Turtles), the sets so purposefully fake & cheesy, the dada knob turned up so far past eleven, that any aficionado of TOO MUCH! really owes it to themselves to let this movie burn a hole in their brain.
The greatest rock movie ever! A "road" movie without the road,Frank
Zappa's look at a 60/70s rock band on the road,small town america and
the realities behind the music industry was far ahead of it's time and
today seems far less dated than many contemporary films. Shot on video
tape and edited onto film,the film has a highly original look to
it,including shots where the roof of the studio it was shot in is
purposely visible. Keith Moon as a groupie obsessed nun,and Ringo Starr
as a dwarf made up to look like Zappa are among the movies
highlites,along with Theodore Bikel as the Devil,A.K.A. Rance Muhamitz. Thirty years after it's release ,still an entertaining film.It makes a
great double feature with the Monkees' film "Head",in which Zappa has a
There is in 200 Motels an expression of insecurity matched by delusions
of grandeur creating an atmosphere of low self-esteem. I realize
musicians can provide a service that seamlessly blends with our lives,
intensifying drama and fun, but seeing 200 Motels again at Anthology
Film Archives I remember that the point of composing is to add
something new to what's already out there...
Some composers innovate while sounding pleasing, their music blending well with other music of the times... Acceptance may be the composer's most comfortable accomplishment...It is encouraging when people like your music, and perhaps you have also delivered something advancing the possibilities of sound... Zappa was completely capable of fitting in while being innovative and original. He's actually a very successful pop star, and his material was always somewhere within the mainstream of commercial distribution.
He represents the universal reflexive response to rejection: reject! He wasn't accepted because why? He could have stepped into the orchestral shoes of the universally acclaimed Guy Lombardo! What a nice guy easing us into a new year with pleasing sounds.
Anyway, in my rejected adolescent insecurity I wasn't appreciating Muzak. I wanted to hear beautiful explosive sounds, and at the time, 1960's-1970, harmonic innovation was part of pop music, primarily through Burt Bacharach, but also with The Beatles, The Fifth Dimension, The Mamas and the Papas... Other innovators of the time include Edgar Varese, Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio, Karl Stockhausen... for me the most accessible of radical orchestral composers is Leonard Bernstein. George Gershwin of course passed away at a young age (38) at the height of his innovations and discoveries...so again with Frank Zappa at 53. It appears that musical innovators are not long for this world and it's amazing what they accomplish in their short lives.
The point here is that 200 Motels pushes away the refined classical crowd with a sense of vulgarity...the funniest outcome will be that a tuxedoed audience will jocularly sing along with the lyrics in the songs....
200 Motels offers great performers and musicians interpreting Frank Zappa's writing, while spoofing his plagiarizing leadership, and they especially deserve to be recognized and glorified... and yes, Frank Zappa, through great effort, offers a path for the advancement of musical composition... I wish making the movie was less contentious... It is beautiful and inspiring.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tony Palmer Films has reissued 200 MOTELS on DVD in "restored" form,
with an interesting audio commentary from Tony that expands on how the
film was produced and dispels some of the film's long standing rumors
(ex: "the master tapes were destroyed" - Tony claims he still has them
Unfortunately, the film print used, while having decent color, suffers from restoration artifacts and is often dirty and scratched (why the video tapes themselves were not used to make a new print is unknown). The 2 channel mono audio's muddy and occasionally drops out on one side or the other. Occasional splices obliterate short sections of the film, including Ringo Starr's description of how he, as "Larry the Dwarf", attracts women.
Definitely worthwhile for Frank's fans who will again have access to this relatively obscure work.
It is a long time since I saw this film, so am really going off memory -
however I am certain that if I say this is one of the most off-the-wall
movies ever made, few who have seen it would disagree!
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were an excellent bunch of musicians who had evolved into a bit of send-up on the side by the time '200 Motels' was released. This means it falls rather heavily between being a rock musical or a comedy tour film a la Spinal Tap. Ringo Starr appears as Larry the Dwarf. Keith Moon appears as a nun (now, that's scary!); while, for reasons unknown, Theodore Bikel is there throughout as the spaced out Dave (Bikel was in 'My Fair Lady' as the star pupil amongst other mainstream features).
In good company amongst features such as 'Head' (The Monkees) and 'Born to Boogie' (T-Rex) I suppose '200 Motels' is very much of its time but looks silly and dated all these years on.
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