I was an enormous fan of Frank Zappa, mostly for his musical brilliance, but also for his acerbic, shredding wit that he often used to carve up those he felt were idiots and/or phonies. He could dazzle you with a blazing guitar, make you laugh at his dark lyrics, and make you smile while he went at it with a politician or a political pundit. Throughout it all, he rarely cracked a smile. Instead, he frequently put on a stern face or displayed that mischievous, knowing look.
Thorsten Schütte's documentary on Zappa, "Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words," is a compilation of interviews of the man himself, his concert footage, and his life around the political arena. The concert footage omits most of Zappa's most famous songs, which personally disappointed me, but it manages to enable you to experience the almost absurd environment of a typical Zappa performance.
Zappa's first time being seen by a large audience was on The Steve Allen Show, in March of 1963, when he was 22 years old and looking like he might have been a member of The Four Seasons. He was on stage with two bicycles, a bow for a cello and drum sticks, which he used to play a bicycle concerto for two. Yes, Allen had him on as a joke, and the results might not be something you consider music, but the seriousness of Zappa as a potential artist manages to come through.
Since I was already a fan of Zappa when I went to see this documentary, a lot of the footage was not new to me. But Schütte manages to put it all together in a manner that makes it flow cinematically, as well as mostly in chronological order. There are alos a few new gems here.
What I found most interesting was the behind-the-scenes look at Zappa's creative process. As a result, what comes through most clearly is that Zappa approached everything the same way. No matter if it was musical, political, or social, Frank was purposeful in his actions, dedicated to doing things right and honestly. His political exchanges with adversaries always show him to be on point and even when he is ridiculed, he calmly rebuts, sometimes accompanied by a condescending smirk.
If you're a fan, even casually, of Frank Zappa, this is required viewing. If you've only heard his name or if you have never even heard of him, it's still a fun portrait of a very fascinating man. By the time the closing credits roll, I think you'll like him, and I know you'll respect him. And remember, don't eat that yellow snow.