Frank Zappa Dan Morgenstern - Essay

Dan Morgenstern

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

200 Motels is a very funny, original and entertaining film. It is Frank Zappa's film just as the Mothers are his group, and it is permeated with his personal vision. It is a film of many levels, but his own description, "a surrealistic documentary," is apt.

It deals with life on the road as experienced by a touring rock group, specifically The Mothers, and such real things as sex, food and drink, relationship of performer to audience, getting high, intra-group chemistry, groupies, interviews, etc., but these are not treated in a "realistic" manner….

200 Motels is an "experimental" and offbeat film of a type rarely touched by major studios….

Actual performances by the Mothers (and the Philharmonic) are interspersed with the dramatic sequences, and there is a lot of music in the film, most of it very good….

Throughout, the treatment of sex is direct and funny, striking just the right tone….

I enjoyed [200 Motels] thoroughly, with only minor reservations: it goes on a bit too long, some things don't work, and there is almost too much to take in during some of the scenes. But the latter of course, can be remedied by seeing it again, and is typical of first movies by gifted filmmakers.

Zappa most certainly is that. He has long been interested in making films, but is not, he says, a movie buff. Thus, his methods and vision are both his own in this medium as well as in music, and unlike most artists in this day and age, he has something to say and a fresh and funny way of saying it.

The score, from the opening Semi-Fraudulent Direct-from-Hollywood Overture to the concluding Strictly Genteel, is first-rate Zappa and always well integrated with the visual elements….

I don't know if Frank Zappa is a genius, but he is certainly a very talented man, and an honest one. He can even poke fun at his own egocentricity, and his humor never becomes dehumanizing or malicious. 200 Motels is good, clean dirty fun, a genuine work of the imagination, and highly recommended.

Dan Morgenstern, "Film Reviews: Frank Zappa's '200 Motels'," in down beat (copyright 1971; reprinted with permission of down beat), Vol. 38, No. 21, December 9, 1971, p. 12.