Other than his physical appearance, my knowledge on the life and career of Frank Zappa was nil;  which is why I was anticipating the documentary Zappa.  Because if a filmmaker is going to educate me on the legacy of a prolific musician, it’s documentarian Alex Winter.  Recently known for his return as Bill S. Preston Esq. in Bill & Ted Face The Music, music aficionado Winter is also one of the best documentarians currently working in the industry (his docs Downloaded and Deep Web made my lists of the best films of their designated years).

Zappa has been a passion project of Alex Winter’s, as well as for online contributors that helped fund a massively successful crowdfunding campaign to access droves of archival footage that have been locked up in Frank Zappa’s estate.  Using these rare artifacts, as well as modern interviews with former bandmates of Zappa’s, Winter structures a respectful and intriguing documentary that uses its materials incredibly well, and also features Zappa narrating his own career.  It’s a lengthy endeavour that focuses more on Zappa in the limelight than at home.  We find out later on that this is most likely because Frank Zappa was a perfectionist and a self-encouraged workaholic, and time spent with his wife and children was rare.

The documentary that Zappa reminded me of most was Tupac Resurrection, an engrossing film that chronicled Tupac Shakur’s life and also featured Tupac narrating  The barrier separating the two docs though is a personal connection provided by its creators.  Tupac Ressurection was co-produced by Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur, and it was every bit of a passion project to her as Zappa is to Winter.  In Winter’s case, even though Frank’s son Ahmet is listed as a producer, Zappa is still primarily told from a fan’s perspective – an unbiased and articulate diehard fan, but a fan nonetheless.

The film could’ve gained layers of intimacy through its interviews, which it does to an extent.  I really liked listening to his wife Gail Zappa and former musician Ruth Underwood reflect on their own experiences.  But, eveyone’s memories of Zappa have such harsh associations to his particular, idiosyncratic personality that even these people who were really close to him are still trying to figure him out.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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