Frank Zappa

True Story of 200 Motels

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This roughly hour-long presentation by multimedia artist Frank Zappa is a made-for-home-video recounting the arduous and oft times ridiculous circumstances behind the making of 200 Motels (1971) -- the first of his three features. The unquestionable highlights are the vintage shots by the Dutch Public Television [read: VPRO] crew for a documentary they aired in 1971. As Zappa explains in one of the many superimposed text captions, providing a running dialogue of what is being shown, "In order to 'balance the budget', Mr. Goode [note: co-producer of the movie Jerry Good] ordered that all original video master tapes be erased and sold as "Used Stock." Zappa later reveals, in terms of dollars and cents -- "Net benefit: under $4000.00/Net loss: all unused scenes from 200 Motels." There are glimpses of the infamous and rarely seen Penismobile. An actual vehicle that was designed and fabricated by Zappa cohort Cal Schenkel, whose collaborations with the musician go all the way back to We're Only in It for the Money (1968) -- where he is credited with 'plaster figures & artwork.' As viewers see, the Penismobile was to have correlated with a sub-plot involving Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. It was re-created on-stage and can be heard on Fillmore East: June 1971 [Live] (1971) under the title "Do You Like My New Car?." This is but one example of key plot points and conceptual continuities that are missing because of Good's mindful watch on the bottom-line. Another focal point that Mothers of Invention enthusiasts will want to see is from the Fillmore West on November 6, 1970. It is likewise taken from the Dutch so-called "VPRO Special" made by the VPRO off-shoot of the Dutch public broadcasting system. The True Story of 200 Motels has clips from other Zappa projects, including Uncle Meat [Video] (1989) and the recording of the Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) live album at (where else) the Roxy in Los Angeles during the second week of December, 1973. The snippet is a reunion with former Mother Jeff Simmons, who left the group during the filming of 200 Motels. Simmons (vocals) re-enacts a li'l thing involving Napoleon Murphy Brock (vocal/sax), Zappa, and a delicacy referred to as the Desenex burger. There are plenty of 200 Motels rehearsals, including one with Keith Moon -- dressed as a nun for his role -- making a "secondary grab for Ms. Lucy's tits" -- so says Zappa. There is even the MTV-style concept video for the Synclavier performance "Nite School" from Jazz From Hell (1987) and fast-forwarding nine years, Steve Vai hangs out for a laugh while in Palermo, Sicily on July 14, 1982 as he and the band awaited the ending of a full-blown riot that broke out among concert-goers. It got so bad that there was actually teargas dispersed into the crowd by local peace officers. Purchasers of the VHS tape also scored a pair of cardboard "No-D" (instead of 3-D) glasses, similar to those worn by Zappa in the highly recommended Video From Hell.