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Eetu Pellonpaa
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I consider this film a really hilarious movie, containing both funny jokes and good musical sequences. Ringo Starr plays "Harry The Dwarf", who is some kind of alter ego of Zappa, and also the narrator of the movie. Frank himself appears in the musical numbers, and he's also the mysterious band leader who is seldom seen, except when appearing in disguises when he sneaks in to tape the band players' discussions and trying to steal their good ideas. Along with the music numbers the film paints portraits of the band members, and introduces us "Centerville", an imaginative city where the band is performing and the players are going nuts. There are some funny features here, like Keith Moon performing a nun, a guy who is constantly turning to a monster plus a Swedish cartoon about dental hygiene. If you like the music of Zappa's early 1970's production time, and you are into anarchic Monty Python-like humor, don't miss this fabulous movie!
Report this review (#95722)
Posted Thursday, October 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Unfortunately I only had one chance to watch this film (the library needed it back), but I can definitely say it has one of the most incoherent plots (if you can call it that) I have ever seen. And that's not a criticism, merely a fact. To put it simply, the entire movie is crazy, from the first scene to the closing group song. Close to half of the movie is the MOTHERS OF INVENTION playing songs with avant-garde fade effects and backwards/repeating tape sections, sometimes rocking and other times cacophonous, while the rest consists of odd skits and an excellent animated section (featuring hilarious voices reminiscent of the squeaky one in The Adventures of Greggery Peccary).

200 Motels is introduced as essentially about a band on the road (and how its members are driven to insanity). The cameos and special guests are great, including RINGO STARR as Larry the Dwarf (forced to dress up like ZAPPA by the man himself because he's a creep!), and KEITH MOON as a harp-playing nun who is encountered by Larry and his 'special' lamp. My favorite irregulars were two of the highly-entertaining stars, Mark Volman and Howard Kayland, former members of the Turtles who toured with ZAPPA under the moniker of Flo & Eddie. (On a side note, Mark Volman seems to be the inspiration for the 'Jack Osbourne' look!)

200 Motels is difficult to comment on further, as it is so indescribably off-the-wall and unlike any other film I have seen in structure and content. I really enjoyed it, and fellow Frank Zappa fans should see the movie at least once (unfortunately it's only on VHS, as there probably isn't a large enough demand for MGM/United Artists to put it on DVD).

My issue with rating 200 Motels is that for fans of Zappa, it deserves an excellent four stars, but overall as a film it wouldn't appeal to the non-Zappa fan and probably only warrants two stars. Thus, I must average it out and submit a good, but non-essential.

Once again,

Frank Zappa fans: ****

The sane portion of society: **

Report this review (#164234)
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars 200 Motels ( The Movie) is nearly a disaster IMO and really not worth your money. Zappa was after his failed attempt to release the Uncle Meat movie anxious to make and release another movie and that turned out to be 200 Motels. The dialog is written on tour busses and in hotel rooms and it shows that not much thought has been put into this. Zappa was a great composer, producer and musician but he should have stayed away from making movies as this is something he didnīt have a talent for IMO.

Itīs hard to really understand what the movie is about other than a very simple story about a rockīnīroll band on tour and their groupie status. Besides that there is an animated movie which is the only treat here about Jeff who ripps the towels from his hotel room. Itīs actually pretty funny and it is acompanied by one of the greatest songs from the soundtrack sung in cartoon style. This very part of the movie saves 2 stars for 200 Motels even though it really only deserves 1. Other good things in the movie is of course the rock music. I still feel that some of the rock songs played here are some of Zappaīs best straight rock songs ever.

The movie has lots of strange personas and an even more strange scene with fishheaded things and vacuum cleaners dancing ballet. Iīm sorry but I just donīt appreciate half of the humour in the movie and quite frankly Iīm not entertained. Keith Moon and Ringo Starr also have roles in the movie, which might have brought some The Beatles or The Who fanatics to buy 200 Motels. What a shock they must have gotten. The narrator Theodore Bikel has a very pleasant voice and I enjoy the finale where he also sings. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan are here too and they always make for a fun experience in my ears.

The filming is not done very professonaly and the quality is often murky and the sound is bad.

2 stars is all I can give for 200 Motels ( the Movie). I would recommend that you get the soundtrack instead as all the great songs from the movie are also featured there. Both the movie and the soundtrack are some of the least exciting releases in Zappaīs career though and really only for the fans. There are some great songs on the soundtrack, but due to the bad production and the orchestral parts which I donīt care much for that one is also mostly a fan thing.

Report this review (#168505)
Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars a bad acid road trip

A Zappa fantasy about life on the road with some well-known friends like Ringo and the Loon (as a nun) and Pamela "GTO' Miller among others As far as the script, it's all non- sensical humour, typical of what you find in their albums like Uncle meat and previous stuff. Definitely not my cup of tea, this is so weird and whacko that it makes Monty Python's humour aimed at Maggie Thatcher's clique, as it compares a bit as its American equivalent, trouncing National Lampoon. The goofiness and absurdity of the scenario hinders with the music's propos, but it's not like 200 Motels is a Hot Rats or Grand Wazoo

Musically-speaking, when there is music (which is not that often), it is the usual fairly impressive pot-pourri of Zappa's general influences ranging from contemporary classical music and operatic movements (that's a novelty in Zappa's works at the time) to wild bluesy-jazz-rock moments where the shows their virtuosity without overdoing it. Those moments are pure bliss, but way too rare and far in-between to make this enjoyable. Other moments are melting pot is overflowing from some uneasy mixtures of elements taken left, right and centre, but you're sure that the out-coming soup will be hardly digestible. One of the few musicians to come out well out of this adventure is the absolutely brilliant drummer Ainsley Dunbar, but that's only so when doing his craft.

BTW, I chose to rent the movie than the double album, but I doubt that the vinyls are anymore "musically?inclined" than the movie. This is too much ridiculous non-sense for this proghead, whose humour glands are simply not tickled by Francesco's delires, despite his eternal question: "does humour belong in music?" My answer is yes, in a Canterbury way, but not necessarily when it hinders the music itself. It's actually fairly weird that an anti-drug artiste like him developed such thick layers of dopey humour that can usually only please to dopeheads close to overdose levels. Surely Zappa was aware of whom his works where pleasing mosts, and probably that it was one of his kicks, making a living of the guys he was biting the hand off. Considered by aficionados as an excellent Zappa project, I find this film (and soundtrack) completely forgettable and even embarrassing when speaking of Frank's genial musical talent that is simply buried in the goofyness.

Report this review (#292040)
Posted Monday, July 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I only saw 200 Motels once and have no immediate way of watching it again, but hopefully I can still say something intelligent about it. As a film, it's terrible, absolute rubbish. Musically it isn't much more solid, although it does paint a picture of the Mothers' remarkable versatility. Jimmy Carl Black steals the show, as he often does when he's in the drummer chair, but from what I can remember he doesn't do any actual drumming on this. Frank's guitar playing is awesome, and the movie does have its share of funny moments.

But what keeps the movie from being a total throwaway is Frank's usual spot-on social critique. The west coast "Me" generation is torn a new one all throughout the movie. Some of the characters spend the film in a drug-fueled haze, and far from being a psychedelic experience the movie is actually a condemnation of that psychedelic experience. Zappa was the only one who saw the shallowness of the hippies, and deflates their experience and punctures the American Dream all throughout. I'd be hard-pressed to recall any specific examples; as I said, I only saw the film once. But it's essentially the satire of "We're Only In It For the Money" translated to the screen.

Plot is terrible, some of the music is great but most of it is there for humor; it's the Twain-style satire that keeps the rating respectable.

Report this review (#292055)
Posted Monday, July 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
2 stars They don't make movies like this anymore. Zappa had already started an earlier film (Uncle Meat) in 1968 but this was his first major film to be released. Zappa fans will be the first to tell you that you should just listen to his music and stay away from his films. I find the film oddly amusing. It's my favourite genre of film: so-bad-it's-good. For a guy who was so anti-drugs he sure knew how to make a movie tailor-made for people tripping out. However, Frank was an avant-garde dude and sometimes his eccentric weirdness is mistaken for drug induced weirdness.

The film includes real life groupies playing groupies (and yes you get to see their t*ts), a cartoon, Keith Moon playing a nun trying 'her' best to be a groupie, bizarre everything really and of course Ringo Starr as a dwarf puppet who is disguised as Zappa. There are members of Zappa's bands (past, present and future) in the film but the rock songs are done by the Flo & Eddie version of the Mothers, while an orchestra does the avant classical stuff. Only tracks from the 200 Motels soundtrack album appear here. 200 Motels is not one of Zappa's best but the double-album is much better than the actual movie.

One of the most memorable scenes is where bassist Jeff Simmons (who quit halfway through the making of the movie; they actually tell you that in the movie) is giving original Mother Don Preston a lecture about working for Zappa and how he would be better off going solo. "He makes you be a creep," he tells Don. "You could be playing the blues like John Mayal or far- out, exciting jazz like Blood, Sweat & Tears" he explains in his English accent. The whole joke that probably went over most people's heads is that a white British guy is being used as an example of "blues" while a popular rock group of the time is being referred to as "jazz."

Frank himself is only seen in the hard rock numbers the band performs. There is much more going on in this film than I have mentioned, but trust me, after you have seen the whole thing you will still be confused as to what just happened. This probably deserves 1 star (for completists/collectors) but some Zappa fans might be interested in it. Fans of the Who and the Beatles maybe not so much. 2 stars.

Report this review (#605450)
Posted Saturday, January 7, 2012 | Review Permalink

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