Neglected Virtues: Frank Zappa's Baby Snakes (1979)
Publication date: 01/12/2017
Frank Zappa was one of the most controversial figures in American rock during the 1970s and 1980s. Always attracted to complex, bizarre and often unfathomable compositions, the musician seemingly sought to provoke as much as entertain his audience. His penchant for sexual humor, offbeat social satire and a form of deliberate infantilism, however, ensured that his music was not readily accessible, and indeed despite a prolific number of albums, Zappa’s music found little airplay. There has, nevertheless, been much serious, scholarly examination of Zappa’s music and career and it is frequently concluded that his musical ambitions often over-reached the audience with which it is most associated. Zappa himself perhaps delighted in such a mismatch as his often scattershot irreverence deliberately worked against any conventional means of “significant” interpretation. Yet his ambition extended to film, resulting in two outrageous, almost improvisational movies – the cult favorite 200 Motels and the odd, lengthy concert film Baby Snakes. When originally released, Baby Snakes played for 24 hours a day at a single theatre with its soundtrack blaring over a PA system. When widely released though, it found general disfavor amongst critics who found it way too long and self-indulgent. Zappa reportedly had the film withdrawn and re-edited to half its length before re-issuing it. Again, it was mainly his existing fans who responded to it.
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