200 Motels

By Tom Harper

The Great Speckled Bird, November 22, 1971

200 Motels
directed by Frank Zappa
at the Emory Cinema

“What we got to do is grow.”

“Yeah, macrobiotic diets and tie-dye shirts.”

If, fourty years from now, my grandchildren come and ask me what movie they should see to understand what the 1971 primitives were really like, I think I tell them to see 200 Motels. Woodstock was too wholesome, the music, the people, even the mud. Altamont was much the same except that it included the violence and frustration bubbling at the edges. Motels is the real Woodstock of Frank Zappa’s mind. And though “we’re all doing our best to deny it,” a lot of the things in Zappa’s head are typical of what’s in a lot of our heads.

200 Motels takes the drug, rock, youth culture and magnifies it. Most basically, it’s an almost totally sexist movie. Women are 90% sex objects, nothing more, “I want to fuck the harpist.” “shove it up her.” “all the hot juicy ....” “come sit on my face,” and “all rock musicians are looking for pussy.” The women in the movie are into the same thing. “I know what lie’s got in his pants,” “rock stars are all the same, they drool on you,” and “oooh, thinking about perversions gets me all hot.” And. Motels doesn’t deal with Gay people but it talks about “faggots” a lot.

But, 200 Motels shows how ridiculous and self-defeating it is to think and act like that. At first you laugh, but as the movie goes on you start to get angry at the characters acting like that. And I think that is what Zappa intends. It makes you want to do something about it.

It is liberation in that the sexism is out front where we can try to start dealing with it. I think Zappa breaks some ground, much like Henry Miller did twenty twenty years ago, using words and ideas we all see and hear every day in our life but never see or hear in books and in theaters. Motels doesn’t tell things “like they should be,” but like they are.

I suppose the problem is whether or not 200 Motels makes a statement about what it shows. I think it does. It doesn’t put a flashing neon arrow pointing to the words of the statement, “we’re sexist, racist, prejudiced, selfish, stoned-out-of-our-gourd people.” But the first step toward changing that is to see ourselves. Motels is the mind and world which has greatly shaped our generation. It is a proper study of that mind and world. It’s a movie with all our foibles and failures in plain view. And with a sense of humor.

I frankly can’t quite figure out what kind, but Frank Zappa is some kind of genius. Theodore Bikel is the emcee. “Bohannah.” “Muhammad.” “Opel the hot bitch,” the “devil,” and lots of ther names, with a smoking brief case and a McDonald’s hamburger. Ringo Stari plays Frank Zappa amd a “tan dwarf” with a smoking Aladdin’s lamp. “Burton the Redneck” is. And everybody is freaked out. There is fantastic music and sound made by lots of people, all the rock instruments, and an orchestra. There is film on film, double and triple exposures. fast cuts, rest periods of burlesque jokes and stunts and occasionally almost cries for help.

My first reaction was to really like 200 Motels. Next I got a little mad and frustrated at the blantant mindlessness as I said. I give Zappa enough credit to think he intended it that way. Finally, I thought it was about a half an hour too long but definitely a movie to see.

One more thing which really made me mad. As the final credits were flashing on the screen a cop with glistening gun walked by in front of the screen and stood down front. I call that intimidation (Pam’s first reaction was to hide her popcorn box, to make sure he didn’t get her for littering), and that is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a cop do that at a movie theatre. I guess it’s just another step towards having a cop in every living room.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net