by Aiko Masubuchi
Go see the new Frank Zappa movie Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in his Own Words directed by Thorsten Schütte. It’s a documentary on Zappa created entirely of archival footage. The editing is a feat in itself if you think that it is an entire feature-length film made of existing footage. The arc is chronological and it’s profoundly sad when the movie comes to an end as Zappa himself nears his death. The simplicity and unabashedness of using only archival footage smartly points to the complexity of the man insisting that we are not getting the man in it’s entirety in any way.
This is a news story about a film that is currently playing. Current news. Current. And just like the word zap in Zappa – this film feels electrifying – like there’s a current flowing through it.
For those of you living in NYC, it’s playing at Film Forum now. For those of you living somewhere where it’s not playing in a theater near you, go hassle your local theater and demand it. Then contact Sony Pictures Classics to say your local theater demands it. Call their sales person to call the theater manager to show the movie.
Through the footage we see and hear an artist at work – a person who was unafraid of being an artist, unafraid of putting his thoughts into his words, putting the words into his sounds and putting the sounds to form words that in turn expressed his thoughts.
There’s a big chunk of the movie in which we see Zappa be the voice against censorship. He says that anything that remotely “smells like censorship is censorship.” Now I’m probably misquoting but he says that any kind of censorship is a disservice because it’s important to put the thoughts out there by the people who thought for you, for the benefit of the people who didn’t. This rings very true to me. It’s not a question of whether one thought is right or wrong – but it’s a conviction that thinking is important and to put that thinking out there into the world to mingle with the rest of the world is of utmost importance. Hopefully these thoughts will interact with other thinking that is out there too. They may get destroyed, tattered, embraced, flattered, shattered, forgotten, silenced, balloooned by the other thoughts out there in the world. The same way that Zappa’s music allured, was hated, was trashed, was ridiculed, was loved, was denied and is sustained by the world. His work caused a reaction because it was out there in the world. In the simplest terms, reaction is action – it’s movement and movement is good because we’re always constantly moving. A current is always in movement causing a reaction.
You know what stops a current from traveling? Insulation. The world we live in is full of insulators. Things that stop reactions. Things that tell us “shhhhh, don’t do that,” “look away,” “suppress that,” “forget that,” “keep it to yourself,” “don’t risk that,” “that might cause a stir!” Feel familiar? It’s familiar to me and I think you’re kidding yourself if you say it isn’t to you. Even Frank Zappa says in the movie that he has a family, four children and mortgages he is tied to. We are always suppressing ourselves, containing ourselves within ourselves in one way or another and it’s good to be reminded that currents do run through us despite all that and sometimes all it takes is a Zap! from Zappa to be reminded of that.