Review: 200 Motels (1971)

200 Motels is inaccessible and utterly ludicrous - but that's surrealism for you. Despite the fact that at times it feels like an in-joke that the audience aren’t part of there is fun to be had here.

Written by Frank Zappa and directed by Tony Palmer Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is a bizarre piece of work that intersperses live performances with surrealist scenes. These elements are fantasies that the band have come up with whilst on extended tours.

As with a lot of surrealist work 200 Motels proves a difficult film to review. As a narrative work the film makes little to no sense but, when the characters within the film reflect on this through the dialogue, it’s not really fair to criticise on these grounds. Just take heed – if you require traditional narrative it’s not here, so look away now.

It’s not entirely without a message though, there are some very interesting points made on the differing lifestyles of popular and classical musicians and it also (perhaps as expected) pokes fun at the attitude of the establishment (at the time) towards bands and rock music.

Perhaps more importantly though there is a lot of fun on offer, people dressed as vacuum cleaners, naked women and nuns all get a look in and often all at once. It works well with the band’s live performances and, cranked up loud after a few beers, the film will prove very watchable indeed. It drifts into psychedelic cliché from time to time but it’s forgivable as a long you are into the music.

As an accompanying music video to Zappa’s work the film works tremendously well. As a standalone piece however, not so much, but it is a unique experience and one that, no matter your thoughts, will prove to be unforgettable. Check it out for yourselves and you might like it but be aware that there are much better surrealist films out there.

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