ZAPPA: Alex Winter’s ‘all-access’ feature on the life and work of Frank Zappa

ZAPPA: Alex Winter’s ‘all-access’ feature on the life and work of Frank Zappa

Words by Chris Lambie

ZAPPA opens in Australia on February 18.

Like the artist himself, there’s a lot going on in this compelling film. ZAPPA is the first all-access documentary on the life and work of groundbreaking musician Frank Zappa.

Directed by Alex Winter (Bill of ‘Bill & Ted’, maker of ‘The Panama Papers’, ‘Deep Web’), it takes the viewer on a wild and wondrous ride in a psychedelic celluloid side-car driven by Zappa himself.

We see home movie footage of young prankster Frank. Although not yet involved in – nor much aware of – music, he was already creating, experimenting and disturbing the vanilla peace of his childhood. His passions led him to roles as artist, filmmaker, composer, musician, poet, bandleader and social agitator and advocate. As a kid, he also liked to blow shit up. His interest in chemistry translated into a somewhat scientific approach to music-making. Watching band rehearsals with his Mothers Of Invention – or later with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles – we see a genius at work.

The avant-garde intricacy and complexity of his compositions are a kind of alchemy. A self-taught and driven workaholic, he largely kept others at arm’s length.

At one point in the film, he claims to have no friends other than his wife Gail (who worked with him to form their own record label and company) and their four children. His time and attention to them was rationed though too. His one mainstream ‘hit’ single was a collaboration with daughter Moon Unit.

We learn of his collaborations with Captain Beefheart (a high school friend), Flo & Eddie, Zubin Mehta and Steve Vai. Talking Heads give intimate insights into the man and his creative mission. He took on the US censorship board. His film ‘200 Motels’ set the bar for ‘out there’ rock and roll cinema. We see Zappa lauded as a hero of the Czech Revolution. He went on to a role as the nations ‘Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism’. He despaired at spending months in a wheelchair after a random on-stage attack. The inability to tour led to his mind-bending collaboration with animator Bruce Bickford. Zappa influenced the music world in ways like no other.

A director of zany, absurd and confronting performance and recordings, he stood apart. His sculpting of dissonant sounds produced unexpected beauty.

His vast personal archival collection likely holds further unimaginable treasures. Zappa is a warts’n’all revelation and loving tribute to one unique creature.

Watch the trailer for the film below, and keep your eyes peeled to your local cinema for upcoming times.

Find out more about ZAPPA via Umbrella Entertainment.