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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concert > Rock > Claymation > Stop Motion Animation > Music Video > Baby Snakes (1979/Zappa/Eagle DVD)

Baby Snakes


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



It remains one of the most outrageous music films ever made and in some ways marks the end of the traditional Rockumentary and the beginning of the MTV era.  It is Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes, his 1979 sophomore outing as director and the film runs 166 minutes.  What could he do with all that time?


In part, Zappa was pushing the visual media like few in his time, and his music was going out of its way to subvert on the most organic and raw levels without getting stuck or otherwise wallowing in anything.  When not showing his concert antics, we get absurd live action moments that were different when that could be the point.  There is also an amazing amount of Claymation by Bruce Bickford laced throughout the film, including of Zappa.  Quicker than you can say Sledgehammer, that becomes one of the first distinct things about this film.  The Peter Gabriel song’s video could not have been possible without this kind of work, though this one is more explicit.


Zappa is in his element, a man who will turn out to be one of the most important music artists of the late 20th century, even if the mainstream is trying to forget he ever existed.  What seemed much odder at the time, though I doubt it is supposed to add up to too much, still holds together.  Most at the time would just label it a “headtrip” film and an excuse to use drugs.  Beyond that, it is still a distinct, if some what overlong work.  That should not stop you from seeing it.


The full screen, color image is fair, but considering it is listed as 1.85 X 1 in the notes about its theatrical release, it is surprising that it is not also offered in an anamorphic widescreen transfer.  As it stands, it shows its age 25 years later, but is from a source on the clean side.  Dick Pearce, Phil Parmet and Rob Leacock shared cinematography duties.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is better than the 2.0 surround version, and like the DVD-Audio of Zappa’s Halloween (reviewed elsewhere on this site), has exceptional sound.  Though released in simple Dolby A-type analog stereo surround in its 35mm engagements, there was always a four-track master form back in September 1979, according to the notes, with Zappa pushing the limits of such sound before, in ways most people never considered.  That makes it very interesting to hear now, because the sound has some serious character when it kicks in.  Zappa does not throw sound around to amuse himself, he does it for effect.  Too bad this is not in DTS like Halloween.


The extras include No-D Glasses and a faux government file inside the DVD case that are some of the nicest extras I have run into for a DVD yet and the chapters are on the back of the file.  The DVD itself has the original theatrical trailer for the film, plus two more commercial spots, a promo for his Roxy concert (due on DVD?), and a section dubbed “about this DVD” with more extras.  They include a gag about SMPTE code, six pages of text with the credits dubbed “Known Associates”, and five radio ads for the film.  One is played during the “Certificate of Rating” segment, while the other four are offered one-per-page on the “Information regarding subject” section.  This is very well laid out.


The packaging and early menus go after the Religious Right full throttle, but when in the film he spends his time going after the likes of Peter Frampton, it is obvious the sneak attack that took place n the 1980s even took him by surprise.  That’s too bad, but Zappa did testify for artists’ rights diligently.  This was at a time when his unique style of music and the Punk movement were being supplanted somewhat by New Wave.  That is made more ironic by the presence in the film of three future members of Missing Persons: Terry Bozzio, Dale Bozzio, and Warren Cuccurllo.


Dale was Zappa’s drummer in the film and at the time, and they would form the wild band now long after.  All in all, it is just another interesting chapter in the life and art of Frank Zappa.  Baby Snakes is one of the most independent music films veer made, but you will have to figure out the title for yourself.  As for Zappa’s attitude about authoritarianism and the danger of powerful, corrupt government, it holds truer than ever, as does his strong belief that conformity must be broken.  He criticizes Rock music, as it failed to continue that tradition by the 1970s overall, yet Zappa carried on to the next level.  We can only hope more and more of his catalog beyond his albums will surface.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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