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Review: Zappa

Watched Zappa via Angelika Film Center’s online streaming platform.

I’d characterize most of Alex Winter’s previous directorial efforts as competent, but unremarkable—the workmanlike products of a journeyman’s labor (there’s a reason that he’s best known as the non-Keanu half of the Bill & Ted franchise). This documentary, however, is an extraordinary artistic accomplishment—a cinematic collage (much of it assembled from rare archival footage) that is every bit as playfully creative as its subject’s music.

And the movie is, first and foremost, about the music, exploring the myriad emotions and sensations that Zappa’s compositions instill and evoke in the listener. Winter covers the basic details of the “rock star’s” (an extremely reductive label) life, but never pretends that they add up to anything approaching a comprehensive biography; after all, summarizing such an expansive, unconventional, and influential career is an impossible task. In fact, the film’s closing lines, delivered by Zappa himself, are almost comical in how flippantly they dismiss his mystique:

We were loud. We were coarse. And we were strange. And if anyone in the audience ever gave us any trouble, we’d tell them to fuck off.

I think that Zappa would have appreciated the implicit irreverence.

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