Widely regarded as a crazy loose cannon and a madman, Frank Zappa became an icon of originality, even if the composer would have rather not be remembered at all. His music career spanned almost forty years and pitted Zappa against critics, music snobs and even the government eventually. His music was Avante Garde, wholly his own stamp on the world and maybe so ahead of its time that the full appreciation of it can’t even be recognized today. It is a fact that, whether you know it or not, Frank Zappa changed the world of music; how you can look at it as a fellow artist or just a consumer; and how the authoritative figures look at it. This is a large point to the new documentary Eat That Question.
Television documentary maker Thorsten Schütte decided to take on Frank’s story in his first feature film and made the smart choice of having it be a narrative told through Frank only. The only voice you hear is Frank’s, compiled from the many interviews the genius musician had given over the years, even stating at one point how awkwardly intrusive the interview process was, likening it to the Spanish Inquisition. No matter how the subject felt about the process at the time, Eat That Question is given an air of complete artist accuracy because of this method and it’s what makes this documentary feel like the truest representation of Frank Zappa.
After a mishmash cutting introduction of all the interviews, including one from Canadian media royalty and MuchMusic alum, Jeanne Beker, we start on the story of Frank Zappa’s long career. We see a clean cut and fresh from his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, Frank make his first television appearance. This is a big one as he, for real, plays a bike with drumsticks on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen to the hosts awe and maybe standoffishness as he jokes later when he wishes Frank success in the future and to “never play his music on his show again.” It’s evident that Frank Zappa was on his way to changing the way compositions were looked at from that point forth as the transformation from society norm to radical outsider began.
Throughout the film, we get some pretty intimate looks at Zappa’s writing and creation process; at one point saying that he always thought to “make a missing link between Edgar Varèse and Igor Stravinsky” would be a goal to strive for. Once turned onto the works of Anton Webern, he strived for that middle point of that trifecta, why may begin to give an inkling to the musician’s life direction. Through his music, Zappa was labeled many things by the media, fans and critics alike largely called a political rebel through his biting and unrelenting music that pushed satire, challenge society norms and shedding light on things we didn’t understand or just outright wanted to ignore.
Those with a deep love for everything Frank Zappa will eat Thorsten Schütte’s deep digging documentary like a five-course dinner. Zappa’s albums aren’t fully delved into track by track but the resonance they had on society at the time and it’s reception’s effect on the industry, forcing the United States government to step in and try to regulate what they thought was offensive and dangerous to the children of America, is covered in detail. Frank’s battle at the head of this fight and his televised hearing at the senate with Senator Paula Hawkins are outlined including his great quip about toy regulation as well. As much as Frank didn’t want to be seen as any type of freedom or civil rights fighter, he had the appearance of one and definitely inspired others to be.
For everyone not educated to the great musician, much like I was, the film is an incredible insight into a man that ironically is known as something he never was or never felt about himself. Sometimes regarded as an acid head, he says in the film that he has never touched LSD and has only smoked less than a quarter pound of cannabis in his entire life. Those educated to this amount know this is extremely small especially dealing with the stereotypes in the rock and roll industry, though Zappa only existed on the fringes of this genre. It’s revelations like this that may break down those preconceptions of this “madman” and may lead to people discovering the truths and continued relevancy of Zappa’s work.
For me and my limited knowledge of Frank, I was captivated by the free thinking that he employed and the pigeonholing he experienced from it. I’m astounded that these opinions haven’t been reevaluated especially when you take the words from the man himself. It’s a stigma that bogged down his message which he addresses by saying “the more abstract and weird they make me look, the less access I have to a normal channel of communication with the people who might benefit from what I have to say.” He knew the colors in which the media had painted him would always put a barrier between him and his public and now, when people go and check out Eat That Question, Thorsten Schütte may have afforded unfettered new thoughts on this incredible genius who had changed the entire system of music ingenuity without the general public even knowing it. Eat That Question is an important music documentary about a pivotal man in that history. I give it a four out of five.