Review: Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Director: Thorsten Schütte
By Mae Anthony
Frank Zappa was a musician whose career spanned eclectic genres from rock, jazz, and classical. As a composer Zappa wrote hundreds of pieces, many of which were for orchestra, and delved into operettas, spoken dialogue, and 20th century classical genres. In addition, he was a writer, filmmaker, producer and conductor.
He’s the only musician who would conduct his rock band whilst featuring in it: a signature performance characteristic of his. There was a lot of footage of this throughout the documentary, which was lucky because it took me a while to stop finding it amusing. It’s an odd but wonderful sight, trust me.
The movie is made up of historical footage of interviews and performances. Not a single “scene” in this film was modern, the oldest being from the early 90s. It was a documentary right down to its core. The genius was not in fancy effects or cheap decorum, but in the way it pieced bits of his musical career together and sunk to such depths that I couldn’t believe it was only an hour and a half long. One would surmise it to be too short a time to pick the pieces of a 30-year career apart. Not only does director Thorsten Schütte not disappoint, but he inspires and reveals to us the true essence of the creative spirit – one that is not tortured in inspiration, but is tortured by the environment in which it is set free.
This marvel compact documentary begins by showing us Zappa’s beginnings, his compositional process, his kaleidoscopic evolution through genres, and explores the controversy around the perception of his music in both America and Europe. Such a man was not easy to put in a neatly packed box: he could not be labelled, he was a self-taught modern day creative who was influenced by great 20th century composers such as Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, along with rhythm and blues music – the surface roots from which rock and roll is stemmed.
As the movie follows his career it tells us his story. He was seen, and often labelled, as a hairy, threatening freak; it is through his own words put forward in this documentary that highlights the absurdity in which this blatant dumbfounded hatred is spawn. A hatred which is only created by people so afraid and ignorant to understand something different; people so lacking in heart and culture.
The movie then looks at how he was seen as advocate of political growth and became somewhat of a socio-political spokesman of the 70s and 80s. It reminded me of the way Bob Dylan was pestered because it was thought that his music was evoking some kind of political outcry during the 60s and 70s. It was not Dylan’s intention to be a political vessel in which society could travel through to the promised utopia of social freedom, wrestling the chains of capitalism – he was a just a folk singer, who happened to speak of what the world needed.
Like Dylan, Zappa was just a man who wanted to be artistically fruitful and alive, but unlike Dylan, when he was called out for being “against the appropriate cultural norms” through edgy lyrics, he did not snarl at the camera in a school-boy smartarse reluctance (don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite Dylan characteristics), but he spoke out in the name of rock and roll, artistic expression, abhorrent American consumerism, and a music business that was so heavily governed by business and had so little to do with musical substance.
This documentary makes one hell of a laceration: it raises questions about what’s important to a culture, and what consumes the value of a life. Zappa died at age 52 to prostate cancer, leaving behind nearly 60 albums, hundreds of compositions, four children and a wife, and a mark within the name of cultural legacy. Do you think he didn’t live more than anyone ever has?
Eat that question.
You can see Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words on Saturday 9 July at Luna SX or Sunday July 17 at Luna Leederville.
For more information visit the Revelation Film Festival Website.