200 Motels

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

An unfinished movie by Frank Zappa. Starring the musician's own Mothers of Invention as caricature versions of themselves, it was supposed to tell a story of how a tour could drive a band insane, but a series of problems including reduced budget and one of the band members leaving during the process, made only one third of the script being filmed. The 1971 release features a new plot created by Zappa in the editing room in order to make something more or less coherent with what he could film. The resulting piece consists in a series of surreal sketches involving groupies, drugs and odd fetishes, all alternating and/or coexisting with music numbers ranging from orchestral pieces and rock 'n' roll cliche parodies.

It also stars Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf/Frank Zappa, Keith Moon as a nun groupie, Theodore Bikel as Rance Muhammitz and former Mothers

Many dialogues were based on records of actual conversations by the members of the band, were they talked things like leaving Zappa for being too old to rock 'n' roll. Bassist Jeff Simmons apparently didn't like at all of being spied, so he left the band. With jeff being sort of a protagonist in the main plot, a last-minute substitute came in the form of Ringo Starr's chauffeur Martin Lickert.

While one can only wonder what a really awesome movie would come out if it was actually finished, it's still a very entertaining film, far more fun to watch than Uncle Meat, Zappa's other aborted film project (also released with what he could do).

Tropes used in 200 Motels include:
  • Actor Allusion: Larry The Dwarf (Ringo Starr) monologue about the retraining facility for musicians mentions how pop groups gain more money than orchestra musicians.
    • All the dialogues that were taken from taped recordings of the band talking - a big part of the movie.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The Mothers.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The groupies.
  • Bad Boss: The way the band sees Zappa. The fact that it's included in the film because the band members conversations were taped, might only confirm it.
  • Bad Girl Song: The suite made of She Painted up Her Face, Janet's Big Dance Number, Half a Dozen Provocative Squats, Mysterioso, Shove it Right In and Lucy's Seduction of a Bored Violinist
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Larry the Dwarf (dressed like Zappa) is hiding in the corner of various scenes, often with a tape recorder.
    • Rance appears in the middle of two musical sequences, laughing of the trouble in one of them.
  • The Cameo: Famous groupie Pamela Des Barres as a rock 'n' roll journalist.
  • City in a Bottle: Not directly stated in the final movie, but maybe something was cut telling that Centerville is a fake city inside the retraining facility. Reinforced by the fact that the characters refers to places like fake nightclub and fake stage, although it can be simply a chessy Leaning on the Fourth Wall
  • Cool Pet: Motorhead Sherwood's newts.
  • Creator Cameo: Sort of. Zappa don't star in the movie itself, only appears as a musician in band-only music segments.
  • Crossdresser: Motorhead Sherwood and Mark Volman
  • Crowd Song: Penis Dimension, sung by the whole cast with torches.
  • Deal with the Devil: Rance Muhammitz/The Devil gives away hamburguers and beers, asking in exchange for a signature in blood.
  • Deranged Animation: Dental Hygiene Dilemma.
  • Dream Land: The narration states that it's a fantasy happened on the road. The movie can also be interpreted as a dream inside the retraining facility for musicians that Larry the Dwarf shows in his monologue.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Jeff's bad and good consciences fighting over him steling the towels of the hotel room and quiting the band.
  • Greek Chorus: Whatever else he is, Rance Muhammitz functions as this. To some extent this is also true of Larry the Dwarf (Ringo Starr in Zappa disguise.)
  • I Have Many Names: Rance Muhammitz also goes by Devil and Opal You Hot Little Bitch.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Magic Fingers, which starts as a very basic sexual rock 'n' roll song with lyrics like Ooh the way you looks me sugar, makes me so hot that I could die, and near the end turns into a disturbing atmosphere with a listing of proposed sexual activies including golden shower
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Aynsley Dunbar
  • Mind Screw
  • No Fourth Wall: All the characters (Rance and Larry the Dwarf, in particular), are aware that it's all a film.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Not a road movie of a band going through 200 motels. At least, it's not the case in this unfinished piece, and Zappa never claimed intended to do something like this.
  • Only in It For the Money: Jimmy Carl Black keeps asking when he will get paid.
  • Shout-Out: Jeff dreams of quiting the band and forming a heavy band, one of the examples his bad conscience uses to how heavy the band should be is Grand Funk Railroad, which Zappa produced an album. Black Sabbath, whom Zappa was a fan of, is also mentioned.
  • Show Within a Show: Two game shows, one in the beginning, hosted by Rance Muhammitz with the guest Larry the Dwarf and one later on hosted by Flo and Eddie featuring the groupies talking about names of penises.
  • Surreal Humor: although Zappa's surreal humor came mostly from bizarre injokes that probably could only be enjoyed at his fullest by him and his bandmates, it's still pretty funny in moments like Flo and Eddie tour around the boring little town of Centerville.
  • Title Drop: TWOO-HUNDRED MOTEEEELS during the animation sequence.