EAT THAT QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS: 4 STARS. “a word portrait.”
Near the beginning of “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words,” the musician says, “I don’t think anyone has seen the real Frank Zappa.” Using a collection of archival interviews and television clips director Thorsten Schütte aims to paint a word portrait of Zappa sans any context, voice over or other documentary tricks.
Luckily there is no shortage of footage for Schütte to mine. From early appearances on “The Steve Allen Show” where he “plays” a bicycle to Jeanne Beker’s famous “bad words are meaningless” interview and a slew of others a picture emerges of an articulate iconoclast, a man who played within the borders of the music business and society, but did it in his own idiosyncratic way. Married with four kids, he says he’s the opposite of the “bearded and gross and filthy” image so often portrayed in the press and frequently complains his records don’t get played on the radio.
For Zappa art and business didn’t mesh, but the sheer volume of interviews on display here suggests he understood the power of media to get his message across. He was always good for a quote but his challenging music often took a backseat to the image of the man who made it.
Schütte uses in concert clips as pacers between the interviews, showcasing some of Zappa’s more demanding pieces. “Bobby Brown Goes Down” and “Dinah-Moe-Hum” appear, but by-and-large the film showcases orchestral and jazz-fusion freak-outs.
By the end of “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words’s” ninety-minute running time a picture has been painted of a man who self describes as a freak and a conservative, an out-of-the-box musician who played by his own rules. There’s nothing terribly revealing here, certainly nothing most hard-core fans haven’t seen before, but the Schütte’s no-frills assembly places Zappa and his music front and center, creating a stripped down portrait of an American original whose compositions expose as much about him as his words do. The real Frank Zappa? You’ll see him with your ears.