Zappa review – under the skin of the wild man of American rock

Zappa review – under the skin of the wild man of American rock

The Guardian

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Alex Winter weaves the early experiences of eccentric musician Frank Zappa into a portrait of the artist as a flawed man

This documentary about the hugely prolific Frank Zappa, directed by Alex “Bill Preston Esq” Winter, takes an unusually serious-minded approach to the celebrated wild man of 1960s and 70s American rock: ranging from his unusual childhood, to his ferocious work ethic, to his political-sphere interventions, this is a fruitful attempt to get under the skin of a figure who is renowned for lurking eccentrically at the music industry’s periphery. One thing it doesn’t focus much on is the music itself; perhaps the ongoing devotion of Zappa’s hardcore fans means there’s no compelling reason to introduce the work to a new generation.

In Winter’s eyes, Zappa’s oddness was set early: the son of a chemical engineer who worked for an army poison gas lab, his musical interests were sparked by an album of experimental percussion by modernist composer Edgar Varèse (the exact quote: “the most frightening, evil, vile thing a human being could listen to; I couldn’t understand why people didn’t love it”); an early encounter with the law, which saw him ejected from the small-town studio he set up as a young man for supposedly agreeing to help make a “stag film”, set him on the way to embracing the counterculture in Los Angeles and later New York.

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