200 Motels Press kit

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FRANK ZAPPA'S 200 MOTELS
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
(Text from the original press-kit, 1971)
Interview by Co de Kloet


WHAT IS IT?
Frank Zappa: As far as I'm concerned, 200 MOTELS is a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY. The film is 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.

HOW DID YOU EVER GET TO MAKE A MOVIE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
FZ: I have been interested in the potential of various visual mediums since 1958 when I first started shooting 8mm films. As a composer, I feel that visual elements, organized using structural techniques commonly associated with musical architecture, provide exciting possibilities for conceptual exploration.

YEAH, BUT HOW'D YOU GET ANYBODY TO PAY FOR THIS THING?
FZ: After having several appointments with people who normally finance films, and having them run screaming into the distance after a partial explanation of the project, by mere chance we took it to United Artists. Mr. Picker looked over our folio (10 pages of "treatment", 2 boxes of tape, and some clippings in case he never heard of our group) and said: "You have a deal ... get me a budget" (Perhaps it was a little more elaborate and erudite than that.) We left the office, got a budget and a bunch of lawyers and work began in earnest. (Pre-production actually began in1968. I had been working on and off since that time to prepare the choral and orchestral music, composing about 60% of it in motel rooms after concerts on the road with THE MOTHERS.)

WELL ... SO TELL ME ... WHAT IS IT?
FZ: 200 MOTELS is a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY, but it might also be helpful to think of the overall "shape" of the film in the same way you might think of the "shape" of a piece of orchestra music, with leitmotifs, harmonic transpositions, slightly altered repetitions, cadences, atonal areas, counterpoint, polyrhythmic textures, onomatopoeic imitations, etc.

YEAH? WELL, I HATE ORCHESTRA MUSIC...I DON'T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, AND I ONLY LIKE ROCK & ROLL. IS THIS A ROCK & ROLL MOVIE OR WHAT?
FZ: This is a "Rock & Roll Movie" and it is also an "Or What". Granting the fact the THE MOTHERS tend to operate somewhere on the outermost fringes of your real-life Rock & Roll Consciousness, the film is an extension and a projection of the group's specialized view of and participation in this intriguing area of contemporary human experience. In other words, 200 MOTELS, deals with things like:

Groupies

Life On The Road
Relationship To Audience
Group Personality-Chemistry
Macrobiotic Food & Tie-Die Shirts

Etc.

... but deals with these things in ways you might not expect (or approve of), simply because THE MOTHERS is not your average sort of Pop Group, and if, for instance, we have experiences with Groupies on the road, these experiences will not be very ordinary. Our Relationship To Audience is not ordinary. Our Group Personality-Chemistry is not ordinary ... therefore an ordinary documentary based on our exploits wouldn't be ordinary, and a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY extended form these circumstances might seem to be just a little peculiar at first.

WELL ... IF YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT IT IS, TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS IN IT... SOMETHING ... ANYTHING ... HELP ME ... ARRRRRRRRRGHHHHH!
FZ: First of all, there is no chronological continuity stressed. This is done to convey the sort of time-space reference alteration a group can experience on tour. On the road, time is determined by when the road manager wakes you up, when the plane or bus leaves, when you set up equipment at the hall and check your sound system, when you play your concert, and what you do for recreation after the show. Space is indeterminate. Motels resemble each other. The same for planes and buses. Concert halls may vary a bit, but over a period of years they also blend together. Audiences vary/blend in a similar way. When we go on tour, especially long tours, life in the group begins to resemble life in the army. Each concert is a campaign. On such tours it is possible to not know where you are ("Is this really Vienna?"), sitting in your room, dealing socially most of the time with other group members, you might as well be in Los Angeles. We seem to carry a "mystery bubble" of L.A. consciousness along on the road. Inside of this "bubble", strange things happen. The situations contained in 200 MOTELS were organically grown inside 4 years worth of these "bubbles". These concepts extracted from within the various time-warps, with as much care as our $600.000 budget would permit, form the basis of the filmic event.

WHO'S IN IT BESIDES THE MOTHERS?
FZ: Theodore Bikel plays RANCE MUHAMMITZ, Ringo Starr plays LARRY THE DWARF, Keith Moon plays THE HOT NUN, Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian Of The Group) plays LONESOME COWBOY BURT, Martin Lickert plays JEFF, Janet Ferguson & Miss Lucy Offeralll (GTO) play THE GROUPIES, Don Preston & Motorhead Sherwood play slightly modified versions of THEMSELVES, Dick Barber (our Road Manager) plays THE INDUSTRIAL VACUUM CLEANER, and Miss Pamela Miller (GTO) plays THE ROCK & ROLL INTERVIEWER. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the group's two lead vocalists are featured, also playing modified versions of THEMSELVES.

ARE YOU IN IT?
FZ: A little bit.

WHAT'S RINGO STARR DOING IN A MOTHERS MOVIE?
FZ: I asked him to play the role of Larry The Dwarf. He accepted because he said he was getting "... a bit browned-off" with his good-guy image.

I HEARD THIS MOVIE WAS SHOT ON VIDEO TAPE
FZ: The video-tape-to-film process used in 200 MOTELS could easily start a new production trend. 200 MOTELS is the first full-length feature film to use this system, and some of the new optical effects made possible by this electronic technique are bound to attract the curiosity of adventurous film makers. One of the best things about these visuals is that most can be done while shooting (not in a lab where controls are uncertain and costly) and instant decisions can be made about colors, textures, shapes, superimpositions, electronically with amazing precision. Other effects are possible (such as the combination of several scenes, each of which is already a montage) during the video tape editing stage. 200 MOTELS was shot in seven days, with video editing for 11 days, followed by refinements in the 35mm stage (at the usual film-handling work rate) of 3 months, sandwiched in between several concert tours. I personally supervised all stages of editing.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS WEIRD MOVIE?
FZ: For the audience that already knows and appreciates THE MOTHERS, 200 MOTELS will provide a logical extension of our concerts and recordings. For the audience that doesn't know, doesn't care, but still takes a chance every once in a while on a new idea, 200 MOTELS will provide a surprising introduction to the group and its work. For those that can't stand THE MOTHERS and have always felt we were nothing more than a bunch of tone-deaf perverts, 200 MOTELS will probably confirm their worst suspicions.