Documentary Music

Zappa

The unreleased footage of Frank Zappa has things you need to see.

Frank Zappa has lived a short life from 1940-1993, but his music career has resonated with his fans and fellow collaborators.

Writer/director Alex Winter of “Bill & Ted” fame has made two entertaining docs this year alone: “Showbiz Kids,” which tells the story of child actors having difficult lives, and now “Zappa,” which talks about the musician’s life. The movie opens at the Zappa family home in Laurel Canyon, where we find a basement containing unreleased footage of Zappa’s career. Keep in mind, he didn’t do just music, but also he made some drawings he did for a greeting card company, movies (like “200 Motels”), and sound experiments. Believe me, you’ll admire how his symphony scores are composed and stylized. All of this was finally authorized to be seen to the public.

He wasn’t into music until the age of 14, when he listened to a symphony. He also played the drums a year later, and was even invited to compose a score for a movie, which was halted. Then, he joined The Mothers of Invention rock band. And as he continued with his music, he had to examine his music and interpret them in his own world.

I have to be honest: the first time I’ve heard Frank Zappa’s name was in 2008, when I bought “The Ren & Stimpy Show” on DVD, and he was a guest voice on one of the episodes (“Powdered Toast Man”). As I got older, the name became more familiar, especially when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” (another DVD set I bought), but I never really listened to his music. Be that as it may, I still wanted to see this documentary, so I can learn things about him. One of the things about life is that you need to learn about your past in order to have a future.

It’s also cool to view stop motion sequences of Zappa’s life, animated by Bruce Brickford. There’s a traffic scene with a rat putting in a cassette tape, hippies engaging in orgies, and a quick representation of a man pushing him off the stage at the Rainbow Theatre in London. This vintage archival footage is a fresh addition in the film, and there’s a little segment that shows us how he sculpt the Zappa clay figures, and why he collaborated with him.

The last act of “Zappa” discusses about his prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with, his visit to Russia, as he was a capitalist, and how he conducted his vision of music in his orchestra.

Too much can happen in the narrative for me to process, but I was able to grab the most important details of his life. This documentary has something for fans of his world, and those who want to learn about him. It has music segments with hits that Zappa never considered hits, his hardships, his political views, and his ambition in the music world. You have to see this movie through his perspectives on life, and it really provides.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Theaters and On Demand This Friday

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