'Motels': Rock and bedroll

By Dudley Saunders

Louisville Times, November 20, 1971

Frank Zappa's ribald rock opera, "200 Motels," will probably turn on the rock set and turn off just about everybody else.

The wildly surrealistic film at Cinema I is irreverent, raucously satiric, dizzy with special visual effects, drenched with four-letter words, five letter words and several that are considerably longer.

Some of Zappa's lyrics are so childishly naughty one suspects him of being hellbent on shocking half of his audience and titillating the other half. Some of the lyrics, however, are equally bawdy, yet reflect mature satiric values and a keen appreciation of modern sexual attitudes and values. There is considerable insight, for instance, in a lengthy song about the male sexual organ.

Zappa and/or his cronies in The Mothers of Invention obviously know music. He uses every imaginable musical form, from rock to symphonic, and then improvises and often combines them. There is much more to his score than anyone could possibly absorb at first hearing.

The screenplay (if that is what you can call it) for "200 Motels" is based on Zappa's impressions and experiences while touring with his rock group.

They face the same screaming audiences everywhere, meet some friendly people and some unfriendly rednecks, go looking for girls when they get tired of the inevitable groupies, become bored and depressed and cynical with the stultifying routine of a long tour. And night after night they go home to impersonal institutionalized motels and hotels that nearly always look the same.

I suspect that most viewers will be baffled for a while by its free-flowing, helter-skelter form, its apparent lack of continuity in the early stages and its constant use of surrealistic devices to distort nearly everything that is familiar.

 I am much more impressed with the music than with the film.

Zappa appears occasionally conducting his musicians. Ringo Starr plays Zappa in a few scenes. Theodore Bikel doubles as master of ceremonies and several other characters.

"200 Motels" definitely isn't for traditionalists. The nude scenes are tame by current standards. The film undoubtedly got its R rating because of the language.  

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