B- Sound: B Extras: B Film: B
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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