Eat That Question-Frank Zappa in His Own Words, dir. Thorsten Schutte│How to capture an artist who played multiple instruments, composed, conducted and produced a wide range of music, as well as directed films and acted in them? Frank Zappa was a complex personality, a self proclaimed „freak, but never a hippie”, who was a puzzle to his environment: „I’m famous, but most people don’t even know what I do”.
Instead of giving the word to actually informed people, director Thorsten Schütte, in his first feature documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, tries to capture the complexity by letting Zappa speak for himself. Similarly to another recent biographical documentary, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words (Stig Björkman, 2015) – he edited the film solely out of interviews, reports and TV shows covering Zappas entire career, and avoided the use of voice-over commentary or talking-head retrospective interpretations.
One of the common misconceptions regarding Zappa is that he started as an underground rock musician and then gradually transformed into an avantgarde artist. The documentary includes the appearance of the then-22 year-old Zappa in the Steve Allen Show in March 1963, where he presented his improvised composition for two bicycles, a pre-recorded tape and a studio big band, which back then might have been influenced by his favourite atonal classical music. Three years later, he released his debut rock’n’roll album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!. In the ’60s and ’70s he released 15 more albums with the band, before starting his solo career with one of his best known songs, Bobby Brown (Goes Down), which was, as he found out later, by some couples mistakenly considered as a slow-dance song – while its lyrics actually describe a misogynist who turns out to be an S&M-loving homosexual.
In the perception of the director, as he stated at the Q&A, his protagonist drifted into relative obscurity in the ’80s, when he alternated his particular approach to rock to a return to avantgarde classical music. During his career Zappa was accused of being cynical, politically incorrect, and an author of ugly melodies. Unsurprisingly, he was better received in Europe than at home, which led him to the conclusion that »aesthetic enrichment isn’t a major consideration in the United States.«
His legacy is kept alive by his fans and family, for instance through a festival in Germany (Zappanale) and one of Frank’s four children, the guitarist Dweezil Zappa, who continues to extensively tour with his father’s music, although he doesn’t repeat the method of changing the set list for every concert. Zappa’s classical music compositions for chamber ensembles and orchestras, on the other hand, still have to be fully discovered, performed and recorded.
After almost a decade of research and clearing rights, Schütte managed to turn an eclectic selection of archival footage into an enjoyable and well-edited documentary, that is as open and sincere as its intelligent and provocative subject. At the Q&A, Frank’s daughter Moon Zappa, said the bottom line is that the film’s technique enables discovery through introspection, characteristic of composing, where one only listens to his or hers voice. Thus it should bring up a clearer picture of the artist. And yet, as her father stated: »I don’t think that anybody has ever seen the real Frank Zappa, because being interviewed is one of the most abnormal things that you can do to somebody else – two steps removed from the inquisition«. ■
│In cooperation with│
Eat That Question-Frank Zappa in His Own Words│ Director: Thorsten Schutte│ Screenplay: -│ Camera: -│ Editing: Willibald Wonneberger│ Music: Frank Zappa│ Cast: Frank Zappa, Steve Allen, Angel│ Producer: Estelle Fialon, Jochen Laube│ Production Company: Les Films du Poisson / UFA Fiction│Country: France / Germany│ Year: 2016│ Running Time: 90 min. │ International Sales: Submarine│ Festival: Tallinn Black Nights FF 2016│