Zappa Glorifies Himself On Film

By Steve Randall

Daily Trojan, October 29, 1971

Back in the days when I was in high school, The Mothers of Invention came out with their first album, “Absolutely Free.” For reasons I don't quite recall, “Absolutely Free” caused a flurry of excitement among my friends and Frank Zappa, head Mother, became a living idol for me as well as for many others.

Zappa's first movie, ”200 Motels,” affects me much the same way. I liked it. In fact, I liked it very much, but I am hard-pressed to explain why.

“200 Motels” is an example of typical Zappa self-indulgence. It is Zappa's film from beginning to end. Though Zappa himself appears only in glimpses, we are constantly reminded of him. The films co-narrator, Ringo Starr, is made up to look exactly like Zappa and Zappa is one of the major topics of conversation throughout the film. Zappa is one of his own biggest fans.

Zappa has no problem getting his message across in a most imaginative way. It would be an unfortunate mistake to go to “200 Motels” simply to analyze it. It is better to just let the film wash over you and worry about the meanings and messages afterwards.

For instance, Zappa makes it quite clear in the beginning what the movie is about. “Touring can make you crazy.” says Ringo Starr, looking straight at the camera, “and this is what ‘200 Motels‘ is all about.”

Indeed it is. Through a series of fantasies, dreams, and cartoons, Zappa, and his filmic collaborator, Tony Palmer, show the bizarre thoughts of musicians on the road, including their search of sanity, sex, and money (though not exactly in that order.

One character is a Catholic nun by day and a groupie by night. With a sense of taste known only to Zappa, she is played in drag by Keith Moon, drummer for The Who. Donovan, Grand Funk, and others come in as subjects of the cryptic, inside jokes Zappa delights in. And the whole cast joins in for a rousing discussion of what a penis should be called and exactly how big it should be.

Zappa has often been compared to Bertolt Brecht and, by stretching a point here and there, one can see a similarity to Brecht's later works. In fact, if Brecht had been as crazy as Zappa, it is conceivable that he might have turned out something like “200 Motels.”

“200 Motels” opens tonight at the Doheny Plaza in Beverly Hills.

Steve Randall, Entertainment Editor.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)