200 Motels

200 Motels

name = 200 Motels

imdb_id = 0066732
writer = Frank Zappa & Tony Palmer
Special material by Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, and Jeff Simmons
starring =
director = Tony Palmer (visuals)
Frank Zappa (characterizations)
Charles Swenson (cartoon sequence)
Gillian Lynne (choreography)
producer = Herb Cohen
Jerry D. Good
distributor = United Artists
released = November 10, 1971
runtime = 98 minutes
language = English
budget = $679,000
music = Frank Zappa
choreography = Gillian Lynne
awards =
tagline =

"200 Motels" is a 1971 movie featuring Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, produced at Pinewood Studios, England. Directed and written by Tony Palmer and Zappa. Actors included Ringo Starr, Theodore Bikel and Keith Moon. A double album of the soundtrack was released in the same year.


The low filming budget involved a reputed $600,000, a seven-day shoot and 11 days editing; these factors contributed to the sort of insanity which the movie attempts to evoke musically. Although the movie's central theme is about "life on the road" for a touring rock musician in the late Twentieth Century, thematic references to "Mephisto", Kafka, Kubrick's , work re-education/concentration camps and an animation sequence are featured as part of the video/musical collage.

The film includes the Mothers of Invention and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the actor Theodore Bikel and rock-stars Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf and The Who's drummer, Keith Moon as a nun in drag.

The plot is both nebulous and nonexistent as a narrative or as a series of vignettes and production numbers. According to Zappa only a third of the script he wrote ended up being filmed. The director, several actors and a band member quit in the middle of production. These events accounted for changing things radically at the last moments.

To keep costs down, the movie was shot and edited entirely on Quadruplex videotape in the PAL format and only transferred to film after post-production was complete, a cinematographic first. PAL is the standard video and broadcast system used in the United Kingdom and has approximately 20% more lines of resolution than the U.S. NTSC video standard. The rushes and the unused scenes were later erased and sold as used bulk video tape.


This was not the first time that Zappa combined orchestral and rock music on film. He did this in his very first film score "The World's Greatest Sinner" in 1962. The music in "200 Motels" also has similarities to earlier Zappa works, such as the orchestral score to "Run Home Slow" (1965) as well as his first solo LP, "Lumpy Gravy", from 1968.

The double album soundtrack, like the film, was completed in a week. The production took place at Pinewood studios in England and the recording of the band without the orchestra took place after the day's filming was complete. This was done with a rented remote recording studio/truck owned by the Rolling Stones which was driven into the movie studio and parked there for a week.

The music on the soundtrack is in a different sequence than the film. In addition, Zappa explained in the soundtrack album notes that, not all the music in the movie is on the album, and not all the music on the album is in the movie.

A large variety of musical styles and satirical parodies of musical styles on the album, including the faux country "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" with a vocal by Jimmy Carl Black. Rock band selections include "Do You Like My New Car", "Shove It Right In" and "Magic Fingers". Little space is given to guitar solos on the album and lyrics throughout the album are typically obsessed with sexual behaviour, critical of American society.

Zappa's orchestral compositions exhibit the influence of composers he admired such as Varèse, Stravinsky and Webern. The soundtrack also includes operatic vocals by a group of "serious" singers on some pieces and the entire panoply of modern chamber music, twentieth century orchestra, avante-garde and twelve-tone repertoire are also represented on the soundtrack.


* This was the first feature film to be "filmed" on videotape (PAL format) and then transferred to 35 mm film for its theatrical release.
* The film's closing credits are superimposed over its own expense reports.
* Frank Zappa appears in this film, but only as a musician. The role of "Frank Zappa" as a film character is played by Ringo Starr.
* The role of "Jeff" was to have been played by Mothers bassist Jeff Simmons, who had quit the band days before filming began. His replacement, Wilfrid Brambell (best known for his role in the sitcom "Steptoe and Son", but also known for the role of Paul McCartney's grandfather in "A Hard Day's Night"), left production after an argument with Frank Zappa. During a crew meeting, a frustrated Frank Zappa announced that the next person who walked through the door would get the part. Thus, Martin Lickert, Ringo Starr's chauffeur, who was returning from the limousine with a pack of cigarettes for Starr, was cast for the role (It was Lickert's only film appearance. He later became a barrister for Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and died in 2006 at the age of 58).
* The film influenced the title of the BBC TV series 500 Bus Stops starring comedian John Shuttleworth [http://www.shuttleworths.co.uk/html/radtv.html]
* The bulk of the musical soundtrack for this film was recorded live as the film was shot (with the exception of the torchlight procession scene during the song "Penis Dimension"); a sharp departure from the traditional method of recording the music beforehand and lipsynching during filming.
* The oft-repeated claim that the film was shot in the same studio as "" is incorrect. That film was shot at a different, MGM-owned studio on the outskirts of London. The iconic black monolith seen in the film is a visual reference and mock-up, not the actual prop. All the properties from "2001" were destroyed at Stanley Kubrick's request after the filming was completed.
* The Film Dirty Duck (film) (aka The Down and Dirty Duck), an X-rated animated film directed by Charles Swenson and starring Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan), was another Murakami-Wolf production. The film's characters evolved from the "Dental Hygiene Dilemma" animation sequence Swenson created for Frank Zappa's film 200 Motels, [1] . The plot concerned a strait-laced blue collar worker named Willard who meets a duck, who decides to take Willard on a raunchy adventure.


External links

*imdb title|id=0066732|title=200 Motels

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