Written in bits and pieces in hotels and motels over a five year period of touring (hence the title), this kaleidoscope of ideas both musical and cinematic was a double album, a symphony, a reinvention of the Mothers of Invention, and a very, very, very strange film. The first movie shot on video and subsequently transferred to film, this allowed for all kinds of wild and weird effects to be used, and on top of that, the collage of ideas and collaborators include animation director Charles Swenson (Dirty Duck), graphic production and production design by Cal Schenkel, Ringo Starr (“as” Zappa), Keith Moon playing a nun, legendary groupies Pamela Des Barres, Janet Ferguson and Lucy Offerall, Theodore Bikel, Flo and Eddie and, of course, The Mothers of Invention. This surrealistic musical comedy was, if anything, about how touring makes you crazy — and that craziness spread onto the set, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra eventually finding they couldn’t handle it (at the end of filming they ripped up their rented tuxedos). Too out there for mainstream critics and filmgoers, it found an audience amongst the late night crowd. Now, the world has caught up to how special 200 Motels is, and it stands as both a midnight movie perennial and a rare cinematic rendering of the Zappa aesthetic.
Dirs. Frank Zappa (characterizations) and Tony Palmer (visuals), 1971, 35mm, 98 min.