Review of Zappa (2020)

Moving picture, 129 minutes

Seen in 2021.

The life of Frank Zappa.

It’s clearly for the fans, as opposed to introducing the man to new audiences. There isn’t enough of Zappa’s best music in it to show his talent, but as a fan I appreciate the interviews and the skillful editing, which includes a couple of clever montages of old footage that is, unfortunately, not from the Zappa archive.

The only fairly complete song is “Watermelon in Easter Hay” played to the end credits. It’s an obvious choice and a good one, given that it is framed on Joe’s Garage as one last dream of music after the musician’s abuse by the industry and the authorities, in ways more cartoonish than Zappa’s own. Joe, the rock-opera character on the album, hears the music in his own head, the way Zappa would imagine the music he was composing when he didn’t have enough money or enough loyal virtuosos on hand to have it performed. The cut of the song used in the film is a somewhat sloppy live performance, not nearly as the good as the studio cut on Joe’s Garage itself, and it’s followed, not preceded, by the Scrutinizer interlude that introduces the song on the album.

That song choice is a microcosm of the film; without knowing what precipitated it I can’t say it was necessarily bad, but I imagine that another few months digging through the archive and thinking about the options would have helped. The result is still a better intro than Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (2016).

moving picture non-fiction