Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Thorsten Schütte shines a spotlight on the idiosyncratic musician in an incomplete but valuable documentary
In a final interview, the late avant-garde icon Frank Zappa shrugs when asked whether he's concerned about his legacy. Documentarian Thorsten Schütte, recognising that a more expansive approach is in order, has assembled this collection of conversations and live footage. Considering that Zappa likens being interviewed to an 'inquisition', the results are surprisingly open and erudite. For a writer, performer and composer whose work sometimes feels wilfully obscure, Zappa seems remarkably straightforward as a person.
There are no talking heads or commentary to contextualise Zappa's career. But those who recognise the musician only as a hirsute, Dionysian figure will be amused to see a clip of a clean-shaven, suited man patiently explaining how to make music from a bicycle on The Steve Allen Show. It's clear that he ploughed his own furrow, and excerpts from projects like his weird-even-for-Zappa 1971 movie 200 Motels emphatically back this up.
Inevitably, given that this prolific artist released over 60 albums in his lifetime, the treatment of the music is somewhat piecemeal, and many interesting avenues go unexplored. Perhaps the huge diversity of Zappa's projects (his classic music is heavily featured here) works against a complete portrait. Constants include his self-belief, his disrespect of authority, and his sense of humour. But while Schütte has fun detailing Zappa's regular run-ins with aspiring censors over the 'obscenities' of his lyrics, Zappa's more questionable sentiments about women and homosexuality are given a free pass editorially by the filmmaker.
Eat That Question is as fixated on granular detail as its subject. Frank Zappa and his music may rarely have been fashionable, but this documentary provides a valuable and permanent record of the man himself; his musical canon can be enjoyed elsewhere.
Selected release from Fri 2 Dec.