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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words

by director Thorsten Schütte

7 July 2016. On the train to Berlin. I have just returned home from a press and promo trip for our new film. On my mind are a multitude of memories all connected to the numerous encounters with the many viewers in L.A., S.F. and N.Y. The phone rings, it's my French producer who is updating me on some news regarding upcoming festivals all around the globe.

The moment I hang up the suit and tie gentleman who is sitting in front of me and who was quietly working on his laptop until now timidly starts to speak: "I am so sorry but I overheard a few words of your conversation. You mentioned names like Dweezil and 200 Motels. Please allow me to ask, are you busy working on something that is Frank Zappa related? I am one of the managers of a Frank Zappa fan club in Germany." I'm baffled. What a funny coincidence. But maybe the right opening for this letter I was asked to write to you folks, who are going to watch our movie.

It's simply amazing how many people out there have in one way or the other a special connection to Frank Zappa and his music. You, in your late 70s, you in your mid 40s and you in your early 20s, you all share something very special, something invisible that you take well care of, a passion for somebody that has left a significant mark in your life. After incidents like this one on the train it sometimes feels like a secret society that we are part of, and it is those very moments where we realize that every single one of us has made this secret handshake with the Zappa universe in his or her very own way at some point in our lives.

For me it all began in a little village in Western Germany in the late 1970s. It was at the end of the school year, when our music teacher in Gymnasium allowed us for the last hour before summer's break to pick a record of our own choice from the record shelf. Unfortunately there wasn't such a big variety of pop records, only one single album that somehow satisfied our craving and that was not Beethoven, Bach or Brahms. It was called “The Evolution of Pop Music” by Deutsche Grammophon and it included songs from Jimmy Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Williams, Julie Driscoll, Richie Havens and...Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. And I am not exaggerating when I say that the moment the needle hit the opening track of side 2, which was a song entitled “Who Are the Brain Police,” I was sold. What I did not know by then was that I never would recover from this very moment in time.

The strange melody that hit my ear, the noise, the cacophony, the distorted sounds, the collaged soundcolors, the weird voices, all of this instantly opened up a whole new world for me. A place I had never been before, sounds I had not heard before, something I could not understand at all and that I looked at with shock and curiosity, but at the same time it called out for me. There was something that attracted me greatly and instantly seduced me with all its weirdness.

All I knew was that I wanted to learn more about where this is coming from, who makes it, how come I only find this now at the tender age of 12. Where has it been before, why did I have to wait for it so long? I wanted more!

Now, let's put all teenage fandom aside for a moment and go back to normal—the funny thing about this encounter I just described is that this mesmerizing energy almost 40 years later still hasn't lost much of its magic and beauty. I am not going to bother you now with an endless list of my favorite Zappa songs I have discovered in the meantime. I always keep saying, as a fan I would have never been able to make this film as it would have turned into a 90-minute-long guitar improvisation—but what I can say with all sincerity is, that Frank Zappa's music opened up the world for me. His body of work is an ode to openness, to dedication, to accuracy, to weirdness, to diversity, to experimentation, to improvisation and exploration and I am incredibly thankful for this gift that eventually led to the film that I am going to share now with you. And you know what is the most joyous part in all this, now that we are having the opportunity to bring this artist back to movie theaters all over the U.S.? It is those priceless moments when you are receiving little messages via social media like: "I took my son to watch the movie and we bonded over Zappa" and the fact that this very special character even 20 years after his passing is still providing us, as he puts it, with "special entertainment for people who have outgrown the ordinary." Enjoy the show!