DVD: Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (2016)

September 29, 2016 | By

EatThatQuestionFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: n/a

Label:  Sony

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: September 27, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Rock History / Frank Zappa

Synopsis: The words, music, and a multitude of interview clips of Frank Zappa propel this comeplling documentary of the enhigmatic musician, composer, and provocateur.

Special Features:  (none)

 


 

Review:

Documentary self-portraits using archival materials and the subject’s own voice and images aren’t new – Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002) certainly helped birth the format, with Senna (2010), Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014), Amy (2015), and Listen to Me Marlon (2015) being more recent offspring – and now Thorsten Schütte’s mining of the Zappa family’s archive adds another fine narrative of an enigmatic figure in pop culture.

Zappa’s musical inspiration stemmed from modern classical composers, and those elements of discord, experimentalism, and provocative, unconventional sounds runs through much of the concert excepts within the doc, but it’s his fierce independence that never wavers, making the final interview extremely bittersweet.

Before he died of prostrate cancer 1993, Zappa returned to his classical roots with a special fervor, recording the symphonies he composed over the years, and his efforts to capture and preserve his work became the ultimate goal after he’d achieved huge success as a rock icon. His blendered rock, jazz, blues, classical, and opera into songs that raised the ire of censors, record labels, and radio stations, and he was better known as a rebel than a musician. He frequently states more people know him from interviews and political screeds than having heard any of his music, and he seemed okay with that strange quandary.

When MGM Records excised his lyrics from his album, he broke free and founded his own; when his music received lesser play in the U.S., he curried the attention and affection coming from Europe, and when major media outlets presented Zappa as ‘that provocateur’ with profane lyrics, he’d sit down with a local figure for a Q&A beamed at high school kids to share advice, and break his image of a classic sex, drugs & rock ‘n roller by stating his firm rule of no drugs and lousy behaviour while touring.

There’s a pragmatic approach that dominated his career, especially in the way he used fame to gain financial security for himself and his family, and ultimately start preserving the classical work by recording his music with large orchestras. And when cancer hit, the goal to create maybe forced a tighter schedule, but not a mad dash to complete; he seemed to stay focused and follow a course until his health ultimately succumbed to the disease.

In every interview culled from a mass of archives (including a The NewMusic piece with Jeanne Beker), Zappa is calm, articulate, and a bit bemused / irritated by the attention and questioning, but in the 1980s he took on a new role as an unofficial advocate for fellow musicians when the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), co-founded by Tipper Gore, sought to impose language and content labels on music to alert parents of the controversial content that lay in the songs being bought by kids. Zappa appeared at Senate hearings and on multiple talk shows, often being one of a few musicians who countered the often ludicrous assertions made by the organization’s members.

Their critiques of album cover art, suggestive lyrics, and other taboos are quaint today, but their angst managed to succeed in putting language alerts on albums, which continues into the present day. (The Senate hearings were chronicled in the 2002 VH1 docu-drama Warning: Parental Advisory.)

Eat That Question relies entirely on archival materials, letting Zappa chronicle his career, and there are some fascinating news clips, behind-the-scenes video, rare TV interviews and performances from Sweden and Germany, a few home video bits, and some footage of Zappa directing his monstrous 200 Motels (1971).

Sony’s bare bones DVD features a nice transfer of the documentary, which is formatted to 1.33:1 as all of the archival material stems from pre-widescreen era sources.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDBComposer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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