Directed by Frank Scheffer
July 2, 2000
Includes footage from:
* FZ, Ronnie Williams and others at the studio, c. 1962-63
* The Steve Allen Show, 1963
* The David Susskind Show, 1966
* Garrick Theater, 1967
* Cover photo session for We’re Only In It For The Money, 1967
* Recording sessions of We’re Only In It For The Money (prob. Mayfair Studios), 1967
* Vienna, 1968
* Berlin, 1968
* Royal Festival Hall, 1968
* MOI 1968-69 Home Movies
* Fillmore West, 1970
* FZ interview with Roelof Kiers at home (VPRO, 1970)
* Stockholm, 1973
* KCET TV, 1974
* The Palladium, 1977
* FZ & Ensemble Modern, LA, July, 1991
* FZ & Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt, July, 1992
* Ensemble Modern rehearsing “Amnerika,” c. 2000
* Interviews with Gail Zappa, Tom Fowler, Ian Underwood, George Duke, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Travers, Bruce Fowler, Pierre Boulez, Todd Yvega & Ali N. Askin
* Interview with Edgard Varèse
* Frank Zappa: Phase Two–The Big Note
This documentary is an offshoot of the Holland Festival that was recently held (among things classical performances of Zappa music).
The VPRO will NOT offer this video for sale in their shop because of FZ copyright issues.
Frank Scheffer: ‘In the end, Zappa’s work is one piece, one big collage’. Few people will not have noticed that Frank Zappa is the ‘Major Composer’ of the Holland Festival.
Director Frank Scheffer – at the age of thirteen he exchanged an album of Ekseption for a Zappa-album and he was lost immediately – seemed to be the person to make a film about the phenomenon. Sunday at VPRO television. Ok, he’s a bit late, but you can’t blame him for oversleeping this morning, when you see him grapping a cup of coffee immediately in the little kitchen of his office. Filmmaker Frank Scheffer is ‘a bit in the Zappa-mode’, he says apologetic, and that means it’s a busy time during the Holland Festival. Two days ago for example he was in ‘De Balie’ for again another festivity honouring the superior-Mother. A successfull evening.
Still, he’s sore about something: the performance of his ‘old buddy’ Aryan Kaganof with theatre company Acephale. Banging on pieces of railroadtrack and shitting and peeing yelling for revolution, it’s fine with him, but when even a member of the Concertgebouw orchestra found it rather bourgeois in all its seriousness, Scheffer had to ‘pull the plug’. Embarrassing, even more when Kaganof terminated the friendship as well: “Art is more important than friendship”, where did he get that! It made me think of 200 Motels right away. “I’m too heavy to be in this group”, you know’.
But well, attend lectures, see concerts, and then in one and a half week his documentary ‘Frank Zappa. The Present-Day Composer Refuses to Die’ must be finished as well. Almost half is put together, so that means working through the night now and then. Who notice the alarm-clock in these circumstances. Last autumn, when it became apparant that FZ would be the major composer of the HF, Scheffer started working on the film. One might think that’s a short preparation time, but his interest for ‘Frank ‘ dated from much earlier. In retrospect he stumbled upon the title for the documentary in his puberty: ‘When I was thirteen years of age, I exchanged an album of Ekseption for ‘We’re only In It For The Money’, and that album had the song (… sic cvh) ‘The Present Day Composer Refuses to Die, Edgar Varese’. When I heard that, I immediately ran to the record store to get me an album by Edgar Varese. It took some time to get accustomed to that, but with Frank it was imediately: bang! What is this?! It simply was a total revolution in my head. Suddenly it was clear to me that anything could be done with sound, music and funnyness. Wow, you know.’
That complete frankness and diversity in Franks work is what appeals most to Scheffer, and that is what he wanted to get accross. He doesn’t see much in interpretation of music, as was obvious from the documentaries he made about among others Andriessen and Boulez. ‘As Stravinsky said: music only expresses itself. In all my work about music I start off with the transformation of musical principles. I want to transform the structuuure, the character and the procedure of the music and composer to the structure, the character and the style of the film.’
Not an easy task, but the recollection of an interview he did in 1980 with Francis Ford Coppolla carried him through. ‘He said: The electronic cinema will totally change the way we think. (…) And the difference will be the difference between a linear and a spacial thinking. One has this concept in one’s head and by modulating the pieces of that concept, something new evolves. When I was making the film I realised that that visonary pronouncement of Coppolla totally aplies to Frank Zappa, in the sense that it doesn’t matter to him if he’s making a film, performing in front of an audience or recording a record. He worked with one conceptual continuity, for him all his pieces in the end are one piece. One big collage. For the editing this means that I don’t compose the film in a linear manner, but I’m working with a sort of kernels. Picture kernels, subjectkernels or shape kernels that I suggest and mark out by the way I digitally mount specific building blocks.’
That associative way of working is fine, but to give the viewer something to hold on to, it needed a structure to put on all those different motifs. Scheffer found two. To start of with there is The Vault, the strong-room where all (inherited) Zappa-tapes lie: ‘The treasurer of the vault, Joe, ushers us in, and thus we go along rows of tapes and mini-kernels of all sorts of aspects of Frank’s.’ In that way Scheffer strings ‘the things’ together, as a second red thread using the ‘Civilization-trilogy’ WOIIFTM (1967), LG (1967) and the much praised swan-song CPIII (1994). ‘Then you start filming, and suddenly also other periods come up for discussion – with George Duke and Jess (..sic) Simmons for example. But the creation of situations in which the unexpected can occur, fits completely with Frank. Not for nothing he always said: “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, for no reason at all”. (…sic cvh)
All this doesn’t mean that all aspects of Zappa fit in this documentary. His criticism of society is mainly left out. ‘In fifty minutes you can’t finish otherwise. And besides, I think that Roelof Kiers did the best Zappa-documentary for that aspect. Especially because he had the advantage that Frank was still alive then and that he encountered him in a very interesting period in time – during 200 Motels. I had to do it my way ; aim at the music and inform, but not in an educative way.’
For that purpose he interviewed among others ‘representative’ bandmembers of the maestro, son Dweezil and Zappa-widow Gail. Relying on her reputation being a knuckle-bone defender of the man’s inheritance that doesn’t seem to be appealing. Last month she condemned a collection of program-texts of the HF and for each part of the program her approval had to be begged for extensively. According to Scheffer it was nevertheless very pleasant to ‘make creative use’ of her: ‘The point is that Gail from my perspective is a very intelligent, sensitive woman. She was my first point of referral. She lived longest with him, so if I want to make a big leap in time, I like to hear what she has to say.’ He quickly adds this doesn’t mean he didn’t have total creative freedom. ‘Apparently now and then she trusts people.’ Scheffer found it very interesting that she ‘absolutely had the feeling that she was married to a composer, someone who made music during all his life’. But his work reaches beyond the ‘serious composer’ compartment in which people tend to push him last weeks: ‘Frank is a slippery customer: the guy released eighty cd’s, and he performed on stage, played the guitar and made a lot of films. Most serious composers maybe create one piece a year.’ Scheffer doesn’t acknowledge the idea that Zappa was frustated because he wasn’t considered a ‘serious composer’ enough. ‘He always said: music is purely for entertainment. He makes a clear statement there that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Ofcourse he wanted to be valued for his work, but not in a bourgeois-way. He never wanted to belong to the establishment, for that he was too independant. Ian Underwood says in the film: “He was an observer and a scientist.” He observed what happened around him, and abstracted that to his music.’
And with that this film perfectly fits in the range of films that Scheffer made the last years. ‘From Mahler to Schonberg, Stravinsky, Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, Berlioz, Andriessen, Zappa. I absolutely see him in that tradition.’
That also shows when he shows the ‘millenniummovie’ that he made for the VPRO last year. It’s named ‘Ring’ and we see speed-up scenes from Rinf des Nibelungen with in the right upper corner exactly those composers, with as last one ‘Frank’. ‘The complete serious music of the twentieth century put down in a point’, as he calls it. And after a big project concerning Elliott Carter that he’s still working on, he sees the circle closed. After that he wants to ‘transform musical principles to drama’ (in short: make a movie), and the longer he thinks about it, the more symbolic the Zappa-film gets: ‘When I wrote the proposal for this film, I realised that that one sentence, The Present-Day Composer Refuses to Die’, and the mysticism it had for me as a thirteen year old, could be the thing that led to the making of al my films. I wanted to know more of that.’