“If you have a close look at all this material and really see him evolve over the years, a whole different Zappa emerges from the one the general public seems to know.”
Filmmaker Thorsten Schutte sat down to talk about his new biopic Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words. Composed of both classic and never-before-seen archival footage, Eat That Question isn’t about his private or personal life, but his public persona, just one that won’t be all too familiar to the uninitiated or even some of his fans.
“I grew up with his music so as a Producer and Director I kept looking in TV archives all around the world,” explained Schutte. “I had a peak on what there was on Zappa and every once in a while you run into something and find some obscure and rare things.”
“I thought let’s come up with an idea to do a film, a portrait solely on him without the usual suspects talking about him. That was at the very beginning and we knew there must be much more out there.”
Featuring unreleased interviews with the man himself, early footage of Zappa depicted an intensely political, articulate figure who was resolutely opposed to censorship and anything he considered fascistic.
“Censorship was certainly one big part of what accompanied him throughout his life in various forms,” said Schutte. “If you look at his early albums, especially ‘We’re only in it for the money,’ its very political, very critical towards the fashion and trends of those times and that was actually the one that got censored by the record company. If you are an artist and have such a creative output then the last thing you want is them cutting your wings and limiting you so needless to say Zappa objected right from the very beginning.”
“In other ways he was limited because his music didn’t fit into the Top 20 or Top 40 radio formats of that time. His music was edgy, the songs were very long, they had explicit lyrics so all of that backfired in the sense that he never had a lot of airplay in the US.”
Going into detail about Zappa’s classical leanings and frequent compositions, Schutte describes Zappa as an artist who was “very hands on and trying to create and produce as much as possible.”
“It was part in parcel with Zappa from the very beginning… at a very early age for him it was interesting to fuse and to build a bridge between his cravings for Stravinsky and Bartok and on the other side his big passion for rhythm and blues, you can hear it all in his music. Zappa’s music to me and a lot of other people was always so enriching not only because of his own work but because he liked to smuggle in little snippets, fragments of other musicians.”
“You might not get it in the first place but afterwards you are scratching your head asking what was that, and you’ll find out it’s from a different source, he was very eclectic.”
Aiming the documentary at the die-hards as well as a younger audience, Schutte is hoping to engage a new generation of fans in Zappa’s discography, while painting a very different picture of the icon.
“There’s so many sides to Zappa to show, to highlight to get rid of this freaked drugged out hippie label that’s sticking on him,” said Schutte.
“It’s up to us to open him up to a whole new world of listeners. What I can tell you from my experiences at screenings all around the globe is that the young ones in the audience, they very much identify with a lot of things that are also dear to him, his struggle, his dealing with limitations, to stay true to your art, to not succumb.”
‘Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in his own words’ is screening at the Sydney Underground Film Festival – for more information head to the Festival website