200 Motels (1971 ) ** First Full Viewing
In the beginning of the creative process, ‘Yes’ is good word. Say yes to as many ideas as you can. Especially if what your making isn’t heavily plot-driven, if you’re chasing an emotion or abstract idea.
However, there becomes a point where the yes ideas need to have import in the art, the ‘yesses’ should have meaning—-to theme or to emotion or to plot or to pace.
Has Frank Zappa ever had idea he didn’t pursue or throw in there? Just for fun? Because no one, Zappa included, ever said whoa there, think it through.
I had my GFF Shelly also watch 200 Motels with me. Hopefully, she’ll comment. Shelly was to give me another perspective. You see, I should like Frank Zappa. He’s weird, he’s funny, he’s in the underground. I’ve tried in the past to like him, all failed. And while there are some bright spots, generally the more focused comedy pieces, Frank Zappa’s art is busy mess. Say, no to something. All yes makes the yes irrelevant.
Overworked. That’s the word. Sometimes, the best quality of an artist is knowing when the fuck to leave the art alone. To be done. I could be wrong on their motivations, I think Zappa and The Mothers of Invention don’t know when to stop screwing with their movie and some of their songs. So, it’s all (now) dated chroma key tricks ahoy. Just because you can edit and loop video doesn’t mean you should. I always suspect when I see re-used shots, cheap fast/slow rewind, and a general overuse of video tricks as a transparent effort to ‘fix’ missing shots, under shooting and lack of a story.
I don’t know the back story to the production, but here’s my theory:
Hey guys, I got this studio space for a week starting tomorrow. Let’s make a movie. We’ll figure it out while we’re shooting.
The Mothers of Invention have been on the road forever. 200 Motels. They all go more bonkers from being on the road, I dunno, maybe it’s drugs? Songs are sang. Sketch-like flights of fancy are are taken. Ringo Starr plays Frank Zappa. Frank Zappa is barely there. Keith Moon is a nun groupie who dies (?) of an overdose (eewwww, like real life). Everyone knows they’re in a movie and talks about it all the time, that’s kinda neat. 200 Motels is an early example of the now popular meta entertainment trend. Pre-meta, if you will.
Tim and Eric is a good example of the new meta entertainment using a lot of the modern old-timey video tricks to create an overall strange-land effect. The difference is these tricks are used for a purpose. A winking purpose. Zappa may be making some inside jokes about the freak lifestyle, but they no longer stand up. Also, any sketch-based movie is usually, inherently uneven. 200 Motels has more misses than hits.
Also, 200 Motels‘s kitchen sink approach doesn’t build toward much, just noise. Maybe I don’t get it. Early music video? Granted, I liked the last third more than the rest of the film, but I think that’s just Stockholm Syndrome.
Things I Learned?
—The Mothers of Invention really hate Frank Zappa. He’s a dictator and a puppet master who steals their ideas. I’m sure it’s just an extended lame joke.
—This movie has talked directly to my penis more than I ever have. Guess I should talk to my penis more. Seems like our conversation ended years ago.
—I can see why teens might like it, TMOI say a lot naughty words. Funny, naughty words.
—Ringo Starr can actually be not funny or likable. Who knew? First time in his career.
—If you’re going as Frank Zappa for Halloween, just get a weird mustache/goatee and a purple long-sleeved turtleneck sweater.
—Drugs are bad?
Do It: The Fiery Furnaces. Like Zappa, TFF’s music is filled with abrupt tonal shifts, looped lyrics and strange instrumentation. Unlike Zappa, there’s a more of a cohesive feel and weird logic at work.
Avoid It: Season two of The Killing. I now know who killed Rosie Larsen. Blah. Blah. Blah, not worth the time investment. With very little forward motion, the–I’m guessing–series finale could have run after the season one finale. Oh, and the show spent most of the last episode trying to glorify and redeem all the characters that it once needed as suspects. You know, except the killer. Killer bad. The good news, I don’t have to think about The Killing anymore.
The Tweeter: True Blood stole my idea I had for a marketing opportunity for True Blood a week ago. Maker’s Mark Whiskey. A groupie was drinking it tonight. #iwastoolate #makersmarkambassador
The Facing Book: A fun (?) game you can play while out dining. When you’re ease dropping on another table, pick one person. Imagine that everyone else at the table is about to take that person to jail or rehab without their knowledge. The stupid everyday conversation they’re having suddenly seems way more important, way more tension-filled.
Bonus Movie Review:
Bring Me the Head of Alberto Garcia (1974) *** First Viewing
The weather’s been in full summer mode, so I was in the mood for a western. A movie where everyone was miserable from heat. I thought BMTHOAG would be a classic Sam Peckinpah western. Not so much, but it is a classic Pekinpah movie. Morally compromised men. Lots of slow-mo shooting. A story that goes sideways. And everyone is miserable.
Alfredo Garcia is the movie’s MacGuffin, everybody wants him. Actually, like 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Alfredo Garcia’s head is the MacGuffin. A million bucks for said head. It’s a mad, mad, mad head.
Warren Oates is a down on his luck American bartender in Mexico. Think Rockford without the PI badge. He gets his prostitute girlfriend to help him find Al Garcia. And at its heart, the film is a love story. Like Sid and Nancy or Bonnie and Clyde is a love story. Although, for a movie with rape in it, the love story is kind of sweet and an effective motivator.
They drive around third world Mexico in a crappy car. Mexicans in crappier cars chase them. There’s a rape break with Kris Kristopherson. Then, things get weird, go bad. Things get shooty.
Warren Oates is fantastic as he slowly slips off the sanity burrito, wearing big sunglasses, shabby clothes, drinking tequila. That toothy, grim smile. His performance makes the film. The ramshackle, mostly plausible plot is engaging. Surprisingly good, but quick ending.
If you’ve liked any other Peckinpah movie (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs), you should like this unconventional Peckinpah movie.
Things I learned from BMTHOAG:
—Do NOT sleep with El Jeffe’s daughter. He will not like you.
—Pay more to have a pubic lice free hotel room.
—Ice. What can’t it do? Especially in hell.
—You can live on Tequila alone. I’ve always wondered.
Next Up: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Aftermath (1994), The 400 Blows (1959), or Abraxas by Santana (1970).
When I was a kid, my parents made a darkroom in the basement. They were proud members of the Columbus Camera Club, who met periodically to share photos and techniques. (Completely off topic: The Columbus Camera Club was also the reason we had one ash tray hiding in a cupboard, for the one person that my parents knew that smoked, and was amazingly allowed to smoke in our house when it was my parents’ turn to host.) There were interesting Christmas cards hand printed each year, and other experiments, including when they printed a photo of my brother and I on a paper plate. Because they could. Because they wondered if they could, experimented, and played with the technology.
In high school, taking advanced art classes and also taking photographs for the yearbook, my friend Ron (well, his name was Ron then) showed me how to double expose and do other nifty developing tricks. I used some weird experiments from the dark room and incorporated them into a painting. Experimenting. Playing.
Even in college painting class, since I hadn’t developed my own painting style yet, I experimented with impressionism, realism, and cubism. None of my paintings looked alike. Just playing with how to make. Like finger painting. Just feeling what the doing felt like.
200 Motels reminds me of all this experimenting. New techniques, what can we do with them? Play with them to see what they can do. I agree that they could really have used some editing in all that creative playing, but I think we’re witnessing the finger painting. I don’t think the weird artistic bits are to ‘fix’ missing or undershot shots like Bryan said, I think they wanted us to see the process, see how messy their fingers got. Of course, art over story is not good for a movie, like it is for a painting.
I missed listening to Zappa at the right time of my life. Certain books, movies, music, you have to be at the right age to really get it. I read Gatsby at the perfect time. Would never read it again, I’m sure reading it again would spoil it. I saw Garp at the right time in my life, read Wrinkle in Time at the right time, I’m sure you have your own examples. All I knew of Frank Zappa was that Moon Unit song that was on the radio.
My younger son is nineteen now, and has been listening to Zappa for a couple years. He found Zappa at just the right time in his life, so I have been kinda ‘getting’ Zappa’s music vicariously through him. But even he said he only made it through the first half of the movie and didn’t get it.
I’m glad the title was explained early on in the movie, we get bored on the road. That pretty much explains it. Inside jokes? Check. Meta-pre meta? Check. Purple turtlenecks for Frank, Ringo, and the dolly? Check. Finger painting. Check.
Comparing to Tim & Eric? T & E are winking and they know they are winking. And they wink so long, you think they have something stuck in their eye. 200 Motels is more like one long 70’s music video, remember, before there really were music videos?
Bottom line I enjoyed it for what it was. I’m pretty good at watching a movie without picking it apart too much during the watching, I mean, I enjoyed Prometheus.
Recently I learned that Ringo replaced Pete Best partly just because the other guys liked his fun loving personality, even though Pete’s mom was crucial in getting them started. Everybody loves Ringo. I have to admit, I don’t really get it.
Do It: Jimmy Pardo on the Comedy Film Nerds podcast. It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of goodness, two things I love smooshed together. The smooshy goodness continues next week when Graham will be on the Never Not Funny podcast. (sorry, I can’t put links in a comment, just go google it yourseff) But can even Jimmy’s rave of Tom Cruise’s talent in Rock of Ages make me want to see this? Nah. I’ll watch Chicago again. That’s one sexy musical!
Avoid it: Glass House. ABC’s Big Brother rip-off. America ‘voted’ that so-and-so should be an epic reality star villain? Really? And now, he’s just being an ass making girls cry. I’ll wait ‘till next month for the real BB.
P.S. When Bryan was dreading watching 200 Motels, he jokingly told me to just watch it and write the review myself. Part of my brain decided it wasn’t a joke, that’s why my ‘comment’ is really a ‘review’ itself.