Frank Zappa: the definitive documentary

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The documentary by Alex Winter arrives in cinemas for three days, from 15 to 17 November Zappa, dedicated to Frank Zappa, the most eccentric rock star America has ever had. To make the film, Winter had full support from the Zappa Family Trust and above all he was able to wander undisturbed for months in the “vault”, the famous vault of the Zappa house, the place where the tapes of so much unpublished music and many private videos shot by Zappa since the 1950s.

Two hours of tight editing, little space for music (a single song is left to run in its entirety, on the credits), many excerpts of interviews from the archives of television networks all over the world, never-before-seen images of Zappa and his numerous band, testimonies of his friends and associates, as well as his wife Gail, who disappeared a few months after filming ended.

Zappa is not a rock star like the others, not many know the melody of one of his songs by heart or even just the title of one of his LPs, he is much more famous as an icon than as a musician (everyone knows he had a mustache and a fly and many have seen his photo sitting on the toilet), but who will go see Zappa without being a fan of it he will surely be pushed to deepen the subject even from a strictly musical point of view: it is impossible not to become curious to learn that, in addition to being one of the best electric guitarists in the history of rock, Zappa composed contemporary classical music of great complexity, performed today by hundreds of symphony orchestras from all over the world. Impossible not to be struck by the clarity and inconvenience of many of his positions on issues such as drugs, politics, civil rights and the future of the former satellite states of the Soviet Union.

Zappa did not use drugs and on the contrary fired his musicians on the spot if they dared to go on stage or show up chemically altered for rehearsals; it was not what one would call a classic “progressive” and on certain issues it has often been compared to libertarian conservatism; he wrote songs offending and mocking in a very democratic way any human category, from feminists to homosexuals, from Jews to Catholics, from disco playboys to Reaganian yuppies and above all, in 1967, distanced himself from the hippie movement with an album with a programmatic title (We’re Only In It For The Money, translated: We do it only for the money), whose cover was a ferocious parody of that of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of the Beatles.

For much of his life, Zappa fought in court with record companies, and in 1979, with monstrous economic effort, he became the first rock musician ever to own his own recording studios and record label, becoming the de facto master of himself.

From the film comes the portrait of a brilliant self-taught, of humble origins but incredibly intelligent and tenacious, a man completely dedicated to music, with few friends and at times inhumane. All witnesses who attended the film reported incidents in which they were treated abruptly or with indifference by Zappa, but all, thinking of his final days and his untimely demise, showed shining eyes and emotion, especially percussionist Ruth Underwood, who credits Zappa with the miracle of changing her life and avoiding a boring career in the music academy.

The golden years of rock unfold before our eyes with images of concerts, happenings, red light backstage and the music of Zappa, fragmented and assembled like a long interminable blob, comments on the images in the best way, passing from the beat and r’n’b from the beginnings to the progressive rock of the 70s, up to the “serious” compositions, those for orchestra or totally electronic.

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