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Director: Thorsten Schütte
Frank Zappa was a prolific musician and composer from the early 1960s until he died of prostate cancer in 1993.
Unlike the more “traditional” music documentary style where the filmmaker interviews distant friends and family who often barely knew them (see every Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, and Nick Drake documentary ever), this film contains no direct narrative or structure other than the chronological layout of the archival footage of Zappa being interviewed by various broadcast journalists throughout his career. This style works well as the viewer feels as if they’re watching the history of a man’s life through a journalistic lens, successfully illuminating the culture and society that shaped Zappa as an artist at that time. The threat of government censorship was a constant risk for musicians of his era and Zappa was one of the stronger opposing voices, putting capitalism, the excess of power, and American values at the true heart of discussion.
His dry-witted responses to broadcaster’s depthless questions had the entire cinema chuckling. The story on the crass song “Bobby Brown” (even by today’s standards; it is a satirical view of jock culture which features the line “got a cute cheerleader gonna help me with my paper, I’ll make her do all the work and maybe later I’ll rape her”) becoming a slow-dance hit in Norwegian school socials due to a language barrier had the audience heaving with laughter.
The idea of this feature is to place emphasis on Zappa as a pop culture personality and show his portrayal in the media during his time in the lime-light. For a Zappa connoisseur, this film doesn’t scratch the surface of a career spanning over 60 albums and two feature-length films, however it’s still heartily enjoyable—even to those unfamiliar with his music.