Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Sometimes my curiosity over long-gone movies, albums and whatnot might ebb and flow, but if I never do get the chance to sate my at-times burning feelings over these things they never do totally go away. So here I am watching a film that I surely would have loved to have seen when I was sixteen but am finally getting to see what, a good three centuries (or so it feels) later!

And here I was after all these years expecting 200 MOTELS to be a rock remake of L'AGE D'OR with all of the daring and cringiness that would entail! All I got was the usual warmed over Steve Allen/Lenny Bruce/Lord Buckley fifties jive that Zappa's been dishing out for years being passed off as if it sprang spontaneously from his cranial capacity just like alla those free jazz and Varese rip offs of his.

Of course I knew 200 MOTELS was going to be contrived after hearing reports of the entire production being some weird Zappa vanity project mishmosh not to mention stories of people walking out of theatres in droves wherever this monstrosity would be playing, but I guess I just hadda find out for myself. Not that I'm sad I finally did, but I must mention that even with the likes of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan trying to save this Titanic from sinking not to mention Jimmy Carl Black's masterful rendition of "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" it's hard for me to digest this collection of social commentary, music and general let's have a good laff at the rubes attempt at avant garde satire...or something like that.

You could say it was all done before, but you won't because at least the stuff that came before (as well as during since the MONTY PYTHON influence is more'n obvious) was executed so much better. And given all of 200 MOTELS's attempts at being "daring" (y'know, making fun of hardhats) and "provocative" it really doesn't measure up to some of the films that had been made concurrently which really let loose on the no-holds-barred. As Lester Bangs (more or less) mentioned during his review of the concurrent live Fillmore album, alla those penis references and groupie jokes that Zappa and gang were cracking at the time really ain't as daring as even one panel of an S. Clay Wilson comic. And that's not forgetting anything the Kuchar Brothers might have been laying to cinema not only during the early-seventies (remember THUNDERCRACK?), but back as far as 1954 when they were a mere twelve years old! Nothing but semi-daring mainstream poo dressed up as hardcore funzies that, like MAD magazine, thankfully only leads to the harder, real kahuna. If you haven't been totally put off by Zappa's googity-moogity, that is.

One thing that really surprises me about this film is that, although Frank Zappa's name and face and guitar playing may be all over the project he's seldom seen in this film, preferring to linger about in a few orchestral scenes or photos (the actual Zappa is of course played by Ringo Starr while the nun is none other than Keith Moon making me wonder about the plight of hasbeen English rock drummers if they have to act in movies as sick as this).  I also wonder if Zappa was a fan and follower of the old DICK TRACY cartoons considering how the animated detective left all of the dirty work to his underlings in those much loved afternoon tee-vee treats. Somehow I can't figure out whether Volman or Kaylan is Joe Jitsu or Go Go Gomez, and a question such as this is one I'm sure serious students of both Zappa and UPA will be thinking about as the years roll by.

Don't believe me? Well if you really want go take a gander at the film yourself and see whether or not Zappa was acting like a pompous artiste or simpering asshole when he made this 'un. Those coming away with the conclusion that he was both just might get the no-prize of the year.


Bill S. said...

Anyone who can work references to Go Go Gomez and Joe Jitsu into a Frank Zappa review is a friend of mine...

Bill S. said...

I DID see this film as a teenager, within 18 months of when it came out. It played a regular theater (the Brentwood 4 in West Denver), not an arthouse (I also remember it played drive-ins). United Artists was dumping it on the bottom half of the bill (back when you still got a double bill) with films considered to have a "hip" or "youth" feel. I may have seen it on the bottom of the bill with ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE or maybe an Elliott Gould film.
In any event, as a Zappa fan who even as a youngster just plain KNEW that his Verve-era material and albums like UNCLE MEAT were far better than anything with Flo and Eddie, I found the film disappointing. Jimmy Carl Black and Ringo Starr were good, but overall, my feeling back in the day was, "Frank, you had the chance to make a film, the backing of UA, and what you make is THIS?"
I always had the feeling that the Uncle Meat film, whatever that actually was, MUST have been better or at least more interesting than this.
Watching the online version you provided, I see that the film is pretty much as I remembered it. Many films from that era have a cult following, but I think you could make a much better case for cult status for misfires such as the Harry Nilsson/Ringo Starr "Son of Dracula" or Neil Young's "Journey Through The Past" than for 200 Motels.
I think I'd rather watch ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE or some Elliott Gould film of the era, actually...
Zappa was already in decline in this period. Although there were some 70's moments when he came back to form (Bongo Fury), I would assume that most BTC readers do not dig out their copies of JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM L.A. very often----if they didn't already sell them ages ago as I did.