- Gareth Crook
Zappa (2020) - 7/10
Who doesn’t like Frank Zappa? Probably quite a lot of people, but do they know Zappa, have they listened to his records? He’s one of those divisive artists that I think a lot of people don’t give enough time or respect to. Getting into Zappa is daunting. There are a lot of records, over a hundred (seriously). I’ve not heard them all but some can be quite… challenging. That for me sums up Zappa, challenging. If indeed he can be summed up at all. I suspect director Alex Winter (yes that one) has listened to them all and loves every one. A prolific recording artist, targeting politics, social issues, pretty much anything he tuned his brain to, he’s an interesting guy. Musically he was all over the shop, but it’s the scale of Zappa’s output that’s, well… quite daunting. This doc tells Franks life in his own words. Thanks in large to an incredible self curated archive that Frank introduces us to. Recording masters, photos, videos, all labelled on shelves. I like Franks dedication to his work. Considering it’s scope, there’s an amazing clarity and focus to it. Inspired by Edgar Varèse as a teen, he’s drawn to the weirder side of music, alongside some rhythm and blues. Self taught on the guitar and pretty much everything else, Zappa wasn’t constrained by rules. It’s a dizzying trip, there’s a lot going on in Franks early life. Scoring b-movies, illustrating greetings cards, buying an old studio, seriously don’t blink or you’ll miss some interesting detail that makes up the fabric of the man. 1965, The Mothers of Invention are born and this is probably the beginning of how most people identify Zappa. He’s he’s the source at the centre of the band, of everything really. A workaholic perfectionist. Uncompromising and not afraid to go against the grain, piss people off and generally be very demanding. It was a trippy time in California though and there was an audience for Zappa’s far out experimentation. An articulate composer creating undefinable music, whilst also keeping an eye on the business side of the industry. Zappa was savvy. Perhaps a control freak, but a capable one. There’s a real sense that Frank was the most capable in any room he put himself in. Genius might not be a ridiculous word by any stretch. The centre of the music scene in West Coast America, he’s the artist that others want to be and be with. The Stones, Beatles, Clapton, Bowie, Alice Cooper all get a mention… oh and Charles Manson. He’s not concerned with success, with hits, just expression. Be it through music, animation, theatre or perhaps most of all, everything together at once. This covers Zappa’s dizzying life remarkably well. Never getting too bogged down in any one place and although it’s the albums that make him (in)famous, there’s a ton of fantastic live footage to enjoy here. If you’re not a fan, it probably won’t convert you, but I think will give you an appreciation to a genuinely interesting musical icon. A serious man, realistic, artistic, funny, principled and political. Winter has done him justice.