State-of-the-art Weirdness From Zappa

By Jeffrey Resner

San Francisco Chronicle, November 8, 1987

CLAY-ANIMATED businessman dreams he quits his boring job and goes deep into a dangerous jungle. A fully dressed woman takes a shower with a naked lunatic and rubs hamburger meat on his back. A musician trying to preserve his freedom of speech defiantly challenges an ominous government tribunal.

It's not a hallucination. It's not a sequence from a foreign film by Bunuel or Bergman. Welcome to the strange video world of Frank Zappa.

That's right, Frank Zappa. The consistently controversial composer has just formed a new software label call Honker Home Video, named for Zappa's Cyrano-like nose.

"We're basically going to provide state-of-the-art weirdness for the home video market," he says. "Honker will offer some of the most creative and innovative video product on the market, offering a broad range of feature, documentary, short subject, animated and musical programming ... the material that is on my label is going to be things that would entertain me."

Whether stretching the boundaries of modern music with his group the Mothers of Invention or defending rock music from the wrath of senators' wives, Zappa has always been an uncompromising artistic force. And he's applying those same principles to his video operation.

In the past, only a handful of Zappa's works has been made available to the public. But now you can find his surrealistic masterpiece "200 Motels" in some stores, and his offbeat "Does Humor Belong in Music?'' concert film can also be found on the shelves of discerning video outlets.

Honker is not just a star trip. Zappa will direct and appear in all tapes released this year, but he also plans on using Honker as a vehicle to get other people's oddball videos into stores – ''an alternative outlet for artists who find their material too risky or obscure for other companies to pick up."

Zappa's company got rolling in September with a new "complete version" of the concert/claymation epic ''Baby Snakes." He refers to the project as simply "a movie about people who do stuff that is not normal."

The most spectacular aspect of "Baby Snakes" isn't the music, or the stage show antics, or even the backstage tomfoolery; it's Bruce Bickford's mind-boggling clay animation work, which is featured intermittently with musical sequences but dominates the program.

Honker's October release is ''Video From Hell," an hourlong selection of Zappa's concept video clips, Claymation and live concert footage, as well as his hilarious testimony before the Maryland State Legislature to battle a proposed law censoring rock lyrics.

This month, Zappa fans will give thanks for "The True Story of 200 Motels," a documentary about the making of his 1971 cult classic with Ringo Starr, Who drummer Keith Moon and actor-singer Theodore Bikel. For those too young to remember, "200 Motels" was the first feature film shot on videotape – a complex, way-out look at life with the touring Mothers of Invention.

Finally, there's Honker's Christmas gift to Zappaphiles – the long-in-the-works ''performance art-music movie" called "Uncle Meat," that's sure to confuse, amuse, rouse, delight, enrage and maybe even bore viewers as well as spark off heretofore unknown brain-wave patterns.

A likely candidate for the weirdest film of all time, "Uncle Meat" is a 100-minute fantastic voyage into absurdity.

Too convoluted to get into here, the plot involves a mad scientist who rhapsodizes about the joys of beef and other insanities. Suffice it to say that ''Uncle Meat'' has one of the most unforgettable shower scenes since "Psycho," and contains something to offend everybody.

Next year, Honker hopes to release a video skit called "Bunny, Bunny, Bunny" starring Zappa's daughter Moon Unit and two of her friends. Also on tap is "An American Dissident," a collection of his "most obnoxious interviews" and other nonmusical appearances.

If "Uncle Meat" or any of Zappa's other videos get too offensive or outrageous, Honker's chief says he'll include a special item with each tape that should help – a pair of opaque "No-D" cardboard glasses viewers can use "for do-it-yourself censorship." Not only will the glasses black out the pictures, they'll cover up everything else.

1987. Jeffrey Resner/ Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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