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Ahmet Zappa talks ‘Zappa,’ the fantastic new doc about his father

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You know a film moved you when you can’t stop thinking about it. If you’re even mildly interested in the life and music of Frank Zappa, you need to see Alex Winter’s “Zappa,” the first all-access documentary on Frank utilizing his vast archive of film and recordings.

Through “Zappa,” we meet the real Frank through vintage film and interview footage, most of it unseen until now. We meet the musicians he trusted to deliver his music, both rock and classical, and we discover how he interacted with them. We meet his wife Gail and see Frank being a husband, a father, a rock star, a classical composer and conductor, a free speech advocate and a tireless battler of injustice in its many forms. Frank was a complicated guy.

We see how Frank dealt with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 1993. In one of the movie’s most impactful scenes, we see part of his final concert performance in Prague, as well as footage from Frankfurt in 1992 when he conducted Ensemble Modern performing music from “The Yellow Shark,” the last album (of 62) released during his lifetime.

It’s a film befitting of the Zappa name because it’s an honest portrayal of his life and work, even when it doesn’t portray him in the best light. Zappa was all about the truth, and as his son Ahmet reveals during the following interview, staying true to his father’s modus operandi was the vision of everyone involved in this movie through the six years it took to get it made.

“Zappa” is a powerful film and one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year.

My interview with Ahmet Zappa began with a little revelation about his longtime fascination with the state of Maine. I encouraged him to leave L.A. behind and join us here full time.

Zappa: I just have to say, I’ve not been to Maine, but I’ve been obsessed with it since I was little. Maine is like my unicorn and I feel that if I were ever to go there, I would never return to Los Angeles. I’m jealous of everyone in Maine (laughs) and I want to live there. I love you guys.

The Maine Edge: I love that. How did your obsession with Maine begin?

Zappa: I’ve been having this recurring dream since I was really little about walking the streets of a town in Maine. I really hope it’s actually like my dream where I see all of these mom-and-pop stores, the hills, the trees, the water, the food and just the community. All of that really speaks to me. I don’t know if somehow through my father’s journeys, and the places that he liked, that the feeling somehow made it to me, but it’s a thing.

The Maine Edge: Your vision of Maine is pretty accurate. I think you should consider moving here, we’d love to have you join us.

I saw the movie last night and can’t stop thinking about it. Many people remember your father as a rock star who played by his own rules, and that is true, but as we see in “Zappa,” the rock star aspect was only one side of Frank. He was a classical composer, a conductor, a filmmaker, a champion for free speech – he was the full monty. This documentary really excels at revealing his many sides, as well as the broad reach of his influence. How did you react the first time you saw it?

Zappa: The journey has been so emotional. The thing that kills me every single time is the part after my Dad was pushed off the stage of the Rainbow Theatre (in 1971) by some lunatic. The footage of him recovering and not being able to walk really got to me. There are a lot of moments like that, and some uncomfortable scenes with my mother and father that show how complicated their relationship was.

It was established early on between Alex (Winter, director/producer), my mom and me, that this film had to be an honest conversation with the audience, really showing, warts and all, Frank. I’m really proud of the film for that reason because I think it does that. It’s not just a concert film, this is Frank in his own words. I’m biased of course (laughs) but I think it’s special.

There were huge hurdles we had to overcome over the six years spent making this film and I have to say it feels pretty good with the way people are responding. For me, one of the big takeaways I was hoping for is that people would know Frank as a conductor and a modern-day composer and that comes through.

The Maine Edge: It really does. I was struck by the many ways your father distanced himself from the big business side of music to embrace independence. The movie doesn’t make this claim, but I wonder, was Frank the first major indie artist?

Zappa: He was definitely one of the first, I think that’s true. There’s a part of me that loves to make statements like ‘he was the first person to do this, or that…’ It was very unusual for artists to do what Frank did but it was hard-fought. There were a lot of lawsuits because people messed with him. I don’t know that I can name another artist who’s had more people go after him.

The Maine Edge: In a scene from the mid-1970s, we see an interviewer bring up the fact that your father had, in that moment, nine active lawsuits against him from various record companies, and he didn’t seem to care.

Zappa: I can tell you he cared, but he was always someone that wanted things to be fair and just. He fought for artist’s rights. Every human being who has those kinds of encounters should just be transparent and honest. You can work through any problem, but I don’t think the music business afforded my father that opportunity. It’s kind of legendary now that Frank was one of the first independent artists to own his master recordings and publishing. My mother put together a distribution deal and then started the home mail-order business at a time when nobody did that.

(“Zappa” is available now in theaters and video on demand. Colonial Theater in Belfast is also streaming it through their website www.ColonialTheater.com.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 08:28

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