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Frank Zappa 1969-1973: A Film By Tom O'Dell

An unofficial but responsibly forensic depiction of the Mothers’ second phase.

Armed with the extensive research of Prog’s recent coverage, newcomers and returning visitors to the almost boundless Frank Zappa archive may now feel ready to put their hand in their pocket. His official torch-bearers would not have you make the investment in this DVD, which is required to carry a disclaimer, saying that it is not sanctioned by the estate of the prolific pioneer.

Be that as it may, it’s clear from the outset of Tom O’Dell’s documentary that it’s a serious and responsible piece of work that helps set Zappa’s work in historical context, and treats it with both respect and objectivity. Subtitled Freak Jazz, Movie Madness And Another Mothers, the main feature stretches over a panoramic 157 minutes, affording plenty of time for forensic examination of Frank’s standing in the avant-garde milieu of the late 1960s, and how he got there. The film sets the scene by describing the achievements of the original Mothers Of Invention before taking its magnifying glass to the formation of the second line-up. It already seems to have won the approval of contributors to that most exacting of platforms, the fan forum of Zappa’s own site. One writer berates its use of Zappa-imitation tunes for interview beds (that’s music licensing for ya!), but the overriding feeling is of sensible analysis and value for money. There’s certainly good juxtaposition of whatever period footage is available with lesser-seen stills, all underpinned by no fewer than a dozen new interviews. These include second- generation Mothers such as former Turtle Mark Volman and the sadly departed George Duke; 200 Motels director Tony Palmer and numerous other collaborators and well-qualified commentators. In the sort of extended format that TV time slots simply would not accommodate, a detailed picture emerges of the second phase in a career that was as relentlessly creative as it was steadfastly uncompromising.