Zappa's Zany Zooms Perk Stormy 'Trip'
By Nat Freedland
Released and distributed by: United Artists; Running time: 98 minutes; Soundtrack Album available: UA Records.
LOS ANGELES – Frank Zappa has finally made the movie he's been trying to get off the ground for years. "200 Motels" features the spectacularly far-out electronic visual effects possible with Technicolor's videotape-to-film Vidtronics process ... colors flowing into each other as a scene progresses and sudden dissolves of the characters into geometric forms. And the high point of the film is a hyperactive and uncensored Murakami/Wolf cartoon of a Mother of Invention deciding to quit the group so he can be a real rock star and stealing every piece of furniture in the motel room as a gesture of frenzied defiance. In real life, bassist Jeff Simmons did leave the Mothers just as "200 Motels" filming started and he was replaced by Ringo Starr's former chauffeur, the ethereally beautiful Martin Lickert, who makes an arresting screen presence. Martin's ex-boss, Ringo, is also seen disguised in a Frank Zappa goatee.
But the bad news is that despite the occasional moments of daffy brilliance we'd expect from any product associated with Frank Zappa, "200 Motels" is a chaotic bum-trip. It comes out a confused mass of footage with no discernable narrative value, running neck-and-neck with Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" as the most self-indulgently pretentious film of the year.
Worse yet, "200 Motels" concentrates on the most unpleasant side of Zappa's artistic personality, his delayed, adolescence sexual inanities and resentment of women. Surely a Mothers of Invention film could have been made that contained more than awkward home-movie posturing by Zappa's cohorts and sophomoric lamentations about what a drag it is to be bothered by groupies on the road. "200 Motels" stands as a visually exciting waste of time.
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