Movie Information

Alex Winter's documentary excels at exploring the artist's life and motivations but falls short in presenting his music.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Alex Winter
Starring: Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Pamela Des Barres
Rated: NR

As an exploration of Frank Zappa as a man and artist, Zappa is a rousing success. But in its presentation of the musician’s art, the documentary is mediocre at best.

The latest film from Alex Winter — who’s having quite the year behind the camera (Showbiz Kids) and in front of it (Bill & Ted Face the Music) — boasts “unfettered access to the Zappa family trust and all archival footage” but spends too much time discussing the music and not enough time spotlighting the songs themselves. What’s included is often drowned out by people talking and the overall musical selections offer a poor representation of the artist’s distinct brand of genius.

Whether intentional or accidental, the film is more an exploration of Zappa’s mind and his inability to fit into the mainstream than what made his music great — beyond demonstrating the latter’s value as outsider art. His inspirational battles with the federal government in the 1980s over censorship and the freaky claymation interludes by Bruce Bickford enhance the flow, as do interviews with those close to him.

But as entertaining and generally well made as Zappa often is, the story has already been told —and in more impressive fashion. Thorsten Schütte covered much of the same territory in his 2016 documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, and while he primarily utilized filmed interviews instead of home movies, he also did right by his subject’s music.

Available to rent starting Nov. 27 via and

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Zappa

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    Frank Zappa has been dead now close to 30 years (he died in 1993) and since that time his legend and his influence on others has grown substantially. Most of his countless recordings are currently available not to mention the numerous videos of his performances on You Tube and other platforms. As someone who was something of Zappa freak back in the day (I had all of his albums through the early 1980s and used to play them straight through in sequence on his birthday December 21st), I appreciate Alex Winter’s approach of concentrating more on Zappa the creative artist rather than his music since it is so readily available and, as you point out Edwin, was covered in greater detail in EAT THAT QUESTION. I don’t listen to Frank much anymore nor do I watch his performances having overdosed on them in the 1970s and 80s but he remains a fascinating, truly original, one-of-a-kind maverick rather like a late 20th century version of American composer Charles Ives. At this point in my life (I’m 68) , finding out more about him as an individual is more important to me now than his music is.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.