Review, “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words” — *** 1/2 stars (out of ****)
Released June 24th, 2016
Directed by Thorston Schutte
Starring Frank Zappa
Running Time: 90 minutes
Box Office (in limited release): $67,115
Thorston Schutte’s “Eat That Question” is sort of an ultimate YouTube bootleg pastiche of Zappa talking Zappa. It’s loaded with interviews, chronicling his relationship with television from the Mothers of Invention Days through to his untimely passing, when he was confined to his basement studio, releasing epic advant-garde symphonies. Throughout, Frank Zappa is nothing if not charismatic. The interviews presented tacitly avoid depicting Zappa as a prickly, aloof music snob, a classicist with no patience for the questions of mere mortals. Zappa definitely had that side to him, and it wasn’t pretty. Schutte’s stated MO wasn’t just building a better interview archive for the singular iconoclast — he also wanted to reintroduce the Mustachioed One to the millennial generation, who probably knew him best (if they knew him at all) as sort of a more musically virtuosic Weird Al Yankovic, the goofball behind novelty hits like “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” and “Valley Girl.” To that end, Schutte obviously took pains to sculpt Zappa’s voice in these interviews, highlighting his eccentric brilliance, his weirdly endearing chain-smoking, and his signature rapier-sharp wit, while downplaying his more dismissive conversational moments.
Especially memorable are some fantastic live performances of cynical deep cuts like “Bobby Brown Goes Down” and “Love of My Life,” plus a fairly explicative rendition of “Dina-Mo-Hum,” if you ever had a question about those lyrics. You can find almost all of the live clips on YouTube on their own, as well as some of the interviews, but their flow throughout the piece is what makes it so fun. Schutte really did construct this, programming each moment with care — it’s loosely chronological, for the most part, though it does jump around every now and then, and it does offer a few framing interviews that are parceled out, piecemeal, to audiences over the course of the flick. It’s great to glean an insight into Zappa’s creative process, and his thoughts on culture and politics and the record industry, and his crackling wit throughout the proceedings infuses everything with great energy and verve. The interviews aren’t just linking devices to be dumped in between concert footage. They are a big part of what makes “Eat That Question” so good.
My favorite moment in the whole enterprise, beyond the music (as awesome as ever), isn’t even a Zappa quote at all. It’s a British reporter’s commentary over a newsreel of Zappa walking through customs in an airport: “Bearded and gross and filthy, [Zappa is] a lone brutal reminder of music’s potential for invoking chaos… and destruction.” The reporter meant this as a criticism, but in today’s music culture, it’s anything but. Though the doc shies away from displaying Zappa warts and all, opting instead for flattering interviews, it gets the “chaos and destruction” part right.