“Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words” does not lie – there is no narration, nobody explaining Zappa’s music or its importance; it’s just a series of media clips, interviews and concert footage that allow his thoughts and creativity to present itself, front and center. It’s enlightening for those who have only a passing familiarity with Zappa’s music and a deep dive for the hardcore fan.
The film traces Zappa’s life and career from his musical beginnings to his untimely end, though the actual footage is not always in strict chronological order. Zappa was in the public eye for thirty freakishly productive years; there’s no way to encapsulate his every important musical achievement during that time in a ninety minute documentary, and director Thorsten Schütte doesn’t really try. Instead, he presents the arc of Zappa’s musical life through salient highlights. Clips range from Zappa’s 1963 appearance on the Steve Allen Show, playing a bicycle as a percussion instrument, through a 1993 interview on the Today Show shortly before his death from prostate cancer. There are interviews, some sympathetic and some not, where Zappa expresses his musical philosophy, social views and political opinions.
“Eat That Question” focuses primarily on Zappa’s thinking, but as that is inseparable on some level from his music, we get plenty of that, too. There are classic performances, largely from European TV, of different line-ups of the Mothers of Invention, of some of his later groups from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as rehearsals of the London Symphony Orchestra performing his classical compositions. Several of Zappa’s brushes with controversy and censorship are visited as well, including footage of Zappa’s testimony before Congress during the “Porn Wars” of the 1980s.
“Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words” gives you just that: Frank Zappa’s version of who he was, what he stood for, the music he played. While there are some tasty musical excerpts, it’s not a concert film. Neither is it a typical biography with critics and former bandmates weighing in. It is nothing more and nothing less than an hour and a half of conversation from one of the most unique and thoughtful American musicians of the twentieth century, and wholly satisfying as such.
“Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words” is now playing at the Nuart Theatre.
*written with Ted Kane