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  200 Motels To Be Perfectly Frank
Year: 1971
Director: Tony Palmer, Frank Zappa
Stars: Frank Zappa, George Duke, Aynsley Dunbar, Howard Kaylan, Jim Pons, Motorhead Sherwood, Ian Underwood, Mark Volman, Ringo Starr, Theodore Bikel, Janet Ferguson, Lucy Offerall, Jimmy Carl Black, Martin Lickert, Dick Barber, Don Preston, Pamela Des Barres
Genre: Comedy, Weirdo, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The orchestra is ready, it's time to begin, so here is Dave (Theodore Bikel) - or is it Rance Muhammitz? - to introduce the show, and with a friend descending from the studio ceiling to accompany him. He is Larry the Dwarf (Ringo Starr), who is quite tall for his size, and he's carrying a magic lamp as if he were Aladdin; Dave asks him what it is for, and he tells him that the nun over there (Keith Moon) wants him to fuck her with it. Dave takes this all in his stride, and invites Larry to spin the wheel of fortune, which sets out what we're really here for...

And that would be a rock fantasia on Frank Zappa's favourite subject of the day, touring with his band The Mothers of Invention, although despite this being made clear at the beginning, there are still those who can sit through the whole movie and remain none the wiser about what they have just witnessed at the end than they were at the start. That's if they got anywhere near the end, as 200 Motels might hold the record for most walked out of/most switched off after ten minutes movie ever made, and this even though the Zappa name was attached. There are fans of his who cannot make it through this, so be warned should you attempt to give it a go.

If you do take the plunge into the world of Centerville, the setting for this obscure tale, then you might find it easier to go with the flow and enjoy the view as a sightseer might, as only the most dedicated Zappa aficionado would be able to separate the plot and meaning here from the often psychedelic overload of imagery. But essentially, life on the road had done strange things to Zappa's mind - though not because he was taking drugs, mark you - and his songs began to reflect that existence of playing and travelling and screwing groupies to the extent that it consumed his material, hence what you saw on the screen in this. Once you know all that is referenced here, 200 Motels is easier to take.

It became long running midnight movie in the seventies, with the reason for that presumably being the cult cachet of its creator rather than any inherent quality as you would be hard pressed to find that many who had experienced it to admit to enjoying it. This cinema environment was odd in itself, as the film was shot on videotape, and not very good videotape at that, rendering the look of a demented television special about it instead of a proper movie. Think 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee except with more nudity, swearing and drugs references, except that doesn't quite do justice to the music, a mixture of Zappa's typical rock of the day and more experimental orchestral material, and all harping on about what caught his eye while on tour.

Oddly, Zappa preferred to take a back seat as far as presenting this went, with Ringo Starr dressed up like him as his stand-in and taking care of the narration once his Larry persona is out of the way; the man himself, meanwhile, is glimpsed conducting the musicians or jamming on his electric guitar - you never hear him utter a word, not even in song. Much of the singing was courtesy of Flo and Eddie, aka Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, whose Down and Dirty Duck film is prefigured in a short animation sequence halfway through. Their comedy stylings are still an acquired taste, and might not raise much of a chuckle with you so long after the fact, another reason why so many take against this movie. But after a while you can adjust to its rhythm, whether with the assistance of drugs or not is up to you, and it's not really as unwatchable as its reputation, simply offputting in its cynicism and obfuscating cleverness. When the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey makes an appearance, you can see where they were going.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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