With unfettered access to the Zappa family trust and all archival footage, ZAPPA explores the private life behind the mammoth musical career that never shied away from the political turbulence of its time.
I don’t remember when I heard Mother of Invention’s Freak Out! for the first time, but I do recall how freaked out I was listening to the album’s closing piece, “The Return of The Son Of Monster Magnet.” Clocking in at twelve minutes and twenty seconds, the experimental track abounds like a pagan dance ritual, growls like a Siberian Tiger, and lurches like a Japanese businessman after a heavy happy hour. It’s both awesome and awful, uneven and unique, and, above all, wholly disorienting. Simply put, the song is singular, just like its composer Frank Zappa.
But Zappa’s singularity was defined by the various roles he played throughout his life. He was many things: An iconoclast. A musical virtuoso. A political disruptor. An activist. And apparently, one hell of an asshole too. In Alex Winter’s latest documentary ZAPPA, no punches are pulled. The film, featuring appearances by his widow Gail Zappa and several of his musical collaborators including Mike Keneally, Ian Underwood, Steve Vai, Pamela Des Barres and others, uses its colorful interviews to paint a Pollock-esque portrait of Zappa, which is to say that not everyone will dig Zappa’s idiosyncracies. If you’re on the fence about Zappa, this film certainly won’t make him your next hero. But in the same way Zappa approached life with a mettlesome attitude, Winter approaches his irascible subject with an enthusiasm that all viewers, from rock-doc fans to Zappa zealots, will find intense, distinct, and, at the very least, quite entertaining.