Frank Zappa

Pixel Dust [DVD]

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Probably not wholly, or even semi-authorized, this DVD collects about 50-minutes' worth of footage (mostly in color) of the Mothers of Invention in 1967-68. Actually there are only four sources for these clips, those being a 1967 promo film; a couple songs filmed at the Bitter End in New York in 1967; a brief snippet of the group performing on British TV in October 1968, and the band playing on the German TV program Beat Club on October 6, 1968. Overall, the clips capture the band right after their move from song-based material to a more wholly instrumental-based fusion of rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde, horror movie soundtracks, and humorous novelty. There's little singing in any of the scenes, in fact, and what singing is here is sometimes wordless scatting (often in a sardonic, high doo wop-influenced manner). The main criticism of what's on offer here is that most of the segments are too short. The promo film is just a montage of fuzzy black-and-white images of the band while part of the recording of "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" plays on the soundtrack; a running caption on the bottom explaining the early Mothers' history in the briefest of terms indicates that this was taken from a TV program broadcast long after the '60s, not from the "promo film" itself. Some of the group's loony humor is captured in the just-slightly-longer portion from the Bitter End, particularly when they seem to be deliberately messing up a mime to "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," though the visuals aren't quite as hilarious as the legend might lead some viewers to anticipate. The British TV clip is the shortest bit, with some shakiness to the image reproduction/transfer. It's the Beat Club performance (with sometimes distracting psychedelic color negative effects, interrupted by a brief Frank Zappa interview segment from 1970) which is most substantial, in fact taking up the majority of the DVD. At that point, the Mothers were well into their more improvisational and experimental late-'60s phase, playing on and on without discrete breaks between songs; even when they go into a snippet of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" from We're Only in It for the Money, they do it sans vocals. On the whole, this is a worthwhile collection for Zappa/Mothers fans, but you can't help feeling both that there's more video footage from this era, and that it could be transferred from better sources if it obtains a more above-board release.