200 Motels (Frank Zappa / U.S., 1971):

A freeform multimedia essay, a guided tour through Frank Zappa's private madhouse mythology, and a jibe at filmic representation, like Lucifer Rising or A Night at the Opera (notice Theodore Bikel as Sig Ruman as Satan). "Touring can make you crazy," somebody says, and, as The Mothers of Invention hop from salacious number to salacious number ("Penis Dimension," "Lonesome Cowboy Burt," Mystery Roach"), on-the-road wreckage spills onto the screen -- people with frog masks skipping through the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, odes to skanky groupies, Ringo Starr in Fu Manchu stache, cartoon towels rolled and smoked. Keith Moon plays the harp as the Hot Nun while grotty band members Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan and Jimmy Carl Black fart around Centerville, U.S.A. (the Rancid Boutique, the Fake Nightclub, etc.); meanwhile, the maestro is mostly away at the monitor, futzing with color filters, superimpositions, and swirling solarization effects, for all we know giving ideas to Godard (Numéro Deux), Tati (Parade), and Antonioni (Il Mistero di Oberwald). Zappa's frantic video technique is a visualization of his albums' sonic multi-layers and psychedelic dissonance, conducted in the 2001: A Space Odyssey set (find-the-monolith is just one of the games) in a no less laborious attempt at using new technology to create form. As relentlessly subjective as Brakhage, the conceptual circus seems like a winking throwaway, but the prankster goosing his own orchestra is throwing his hat into the modernist arena, trying to forge a different brand of cinema and instead giving birth to Tom Green. Zappa's spastic inventiveness is adolescent and exhausting, yet, as befits his dedicated obscurantism, the prodigious headache that ensues is by all accounts the intended effect.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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