Frank Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’ Celebrates 50th Anniversary with 6-Disc Box Set

Edited by JOHN DALY

Frank Zappa’s documentary ‘200 Motels’ and its remarkable soundtrack celebrates its 50th anniversary with the release of a 6-disc box set, available Nov. 19.

The movie 200 Motels was incredibly unique for its day as it remains today. The film and its soundtrack brought together Zappa’s offbeat musical and visual worlds, assembling The Mothers, Ringo Starr as Zappa – as “a large dwarf” – Keith Moon as a perverted nun, Pamela Des Barres in her acting debut, noted thespian Theodore Bikel, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and an incredible assortment of characters.

The film, written by Zappa and co-directed by him and Tony Palmer, mixed together irreverent comedic skits, madcap satire, eye-popping animation and virtuosic on-screen musical performances from both The Mothers and the RPO for a fascinating and free-wheeling multimedia extravaganza. 

Shot in just 10 days with a budget of around $650,000 from distributor United Artists, “200 Motels” was one of the first movies to be filmed entirely on videotape and Zappa and crew pushed the envelope of the burgeoning new medium’s possibilities, mostly notably through its use of spectacular – and at the time – state-of-the-art visual effects. 

Check out the trailer for 200 Motels here:

Described by Zappa as “at once a reportage of real events and an extrapolation of them… other elements include ‘conceptual by-products’ of the extrapolated ‘real event’ … In some ways the contents of the film are autobiographical.

The music, and its corresponding soundtrack, was equally diverse, a wild pastiche of avant garde rock and orchestral compositions interspersed with dialog from the film.

Up until that time, compositions like the finale piece, “Strictly Genteel,” were some of the most ambitious material ever written and recorded by Zappa. The band in the film and on the soundtrack consisted of Frank Zappa (guitar & bass), Mark Volman (vocals & special material), Howard Kaylan (vocals & special material), Ian Underwood (keyboards & winds), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards & trombone), Martin Lickert (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (vocals), and Ruth Underwood (orchestra drum set), not to mention the aforementioned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

“This music is not in the same order as in the movie,” Zappa wrote in the album’s original liner notes. “Some of this music is in the movie. Some of this music is not in the movie. Some of the music that’s in the movie is not in the album. Some of the music that was written for the movie is not in the movie or the album. All of this music was written for the movie, over a period of 4 years. Most of it (60%) was written in motels while touring.”

Go to Zappa.com for more info.

Pre-order here.