Seems the world falls into one of three camps when it comes to Frank Zappa: At the top, we've got those who revere the man as some kind of genius; someplace in the middle are the folks who maybe like an album or two but don't know much; and then someplace else are the people who know the name but don't know enough. Documentary director Alex Winter (The Panama Papers) made a film for all of them.
In Zappa, Winter takes us from the musician's earliest days in small-town California and through a brief stint in prison. We follow Zappa and his Mothers of Invention into regular engagements in New York City and across Europe. We follow a solo Zappa through Russia, to LA's Laurel Canyon, through "Valley Girl" and Senate hearings and his position as the Czech Republic's Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism—not kidding—all the way up to those last few years wherein his monumental composition skills finally went full orchestra prior to his death in 1993.
Winter compiles countless instances of video and photographic evidence covering something like 40 years of Zappa, his crew, bandmates, family, artistic collaborators and seemingly anyone else with ties to the man. Those in the know will no doubt be well aware of Zappa's prowess, but newcomers are sure to learn that while the presentation felt rock-ish, his mind worked more akin to Beethoven's than John Lennon's.
We even get the darker side of Zappa's genius complex and insecurities from musicians who played in his band across time like Ruth Underwood, Don Preston and Ray White—people who all still seem to love and miss him dearly. Pity, then, that widow Gail Zappa appears minimally and we get literally nothing from children Dweezil, Ahmet and Moon Unit, though Ahmet serves as a producer, so perhaps that was about journalistic integrity or something. Either way, it's a staggering if minimally incomplete look at one of the most storied and misunderstood figures in cultural history—a bit of required learning for anyone who claims to love rock 'n' roll and easily the most worthwhile documentary on Zappa available.
+Deep dive told without ass kissing
-More actual Zappa tunes would've been nice
Directed by Winter
Violet Crown Virtual Cinema, NR, 129 min.