200 MOTELS (1971)
Article 5111 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Tony Palmer and Frank Zappa
Featuring Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Ian Underwood
What it is: Frank Zappa’s idea of a concert film…maybe
The members of a rock group on tour in the fake town of Centerville worry about getting beer, getting paid and getting laid.
The best way I think of to prepare yourself for this movie is simple; just listen to some of Frank Zappa’s music when he was head of The Mothers of Invention. This movie is the visual equivalent of the jagged, bizarre montage music of the band, and on that level, nothing in the movie really surprises me; it was as freakishly non-linear and visually trippy as I thought it would be. I suspect that one’s reaction to it will be somewhat equivalent to one’s reaction to Zappa’s music in the first place. I admire Zappa quite a bit; he’s very true to his distinct musical vision, and he hovered in a strange area between classical, jazz, rock and experimental music that no one else inhabited. Still, I mostly enjoy his work in smaller doses; this movie is a bit much to take in one sitting. The movie is supposedly about how touring can make you crazy, and its non-realistic approach is its primary fantastic content, though any movie that features a man playing a vacuum cleaner is in a world all its own. Zappa wanted a number of famous people for the movie (including Christopher Lee, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, John Lennon and others), and he did manage to get a few names in the cast; Theodore Bikel comes the closest to actually playing a coherent role of sorts, Keith Moon plays a hot nun, and Ringo Starr plays Larry the Dwarf who plays Frank Zappa. Zappa himself appears, but has no dialogue and is mostly seen either playing instruments or conducting the orchestra. The movie is full of bizarre visual tricks, montage effects, and even has an animated Dental Hygiene film in the middle. There’s no plot.