For Those Of You Who Might Not Know

To celebrate 20 years of bringing you Zappa and related news via my Idiot Bastard website, I propose to write an article each month that provides answers to some of those questions no one asks. Yes, I am giving you 12 FUQs (Frequently Unasked Questions) in 2020!

#2: Films


These amazing illustrations are by Drew Friedman – please check out his work at www.drewfriedman.net

We all know of Frank’s penchant for monster movies (“…and the cheaper they are, the better they are!”) as he name-checked a few titles, and some of the genre’s actors, in various songs – for example:

·      It Conquered The World (1956) in his above quoted Cheepnis preamble;

·      Sonny Tufts, Morris Ankrum, Richard Basehart in The Radio Is Broken – which he described as a sequel to Cheepnis;

·      The Brainiac (1962) in Debra Kadabra; and

·      Gorgo from Trance-Fusion (2006) was named after a 1961 film about a sea monster brought to London following a volcanic eruption off the coast of Ireland.

During the mid-1970s, Frank also regularly introduced himself as Rondo Hatton (pictured above, right). Frank said of Hatton, “...at one period in American film history, he was the classic ugly guy. Somebody had to carry on the tradition!” Hatton’s unique facial features were the result of acromegaly, which Universal exploited in such B-Movies as House Of Horrors and The Brute Man (both released in 1946, shortly after Hatton’s death).

Pre-Mothers, FZ wrote the scores to two low budget movies: The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965). The former was narrated by ‘man of a thousand voices’, Paul Frees, whose skills were used in the English language version of the Japanese monster movie Rodan (1956) – from which Ahmet got one of his middle names; the latter starred Mercedes McCambridge, who would go on to provide the voice of the demon in The Exorcist (1973).

While in California shooting sex comedy Don’t Make Waves with Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate (tagline “Turn on! Stay loose! Make out!”), Italian Tunisian actress Claudia Cardinale was photographed alongside FZ (with Carl Franzoni and Eliot Ingber) for an article that appeared in Epoca magazine in 1967. Once Frank became better known, he came close to scoring two commercially successful sci-fi movies: Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986).

Frank often mentioned in interviews that one of his favourite films was Freaks (1932). Dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto, Schlitze (pictured above, left) and other ‘freaks’ can be seen on the front cover of Tinsel Town Rebellion (1981), while the film’s director, Tod Browning, is thanked in the liner notes of The MOFO Project/Object (2006). The film was banned by the British censors for over thirty years before being passed with an X rating in 1963.

As well as old monster movies, Frank liked other films too: of seeing Blackboard Jungle (1955) in a cinema he said, “I remember being inspired with awe. I didn’t care if Bill Haley was white or sincere…he was playing the Teen-Age National Anthem and it was so LOUD, I was jumping up and down.” He is quoted as citing Terry Gilliam’s Brazil as his all time favourite, and later showed the director his Dwell screenplay – based on his Them Or Us book. (Some years ago, I had an opportunity to ask Gilliam what he thought of it: he used the word “tawdry”.) One time FZ had to curtail an interview as he was taking the family to see Die Hard, which Diva admits to watching over and over again. (In 2011, she named her first solo art show – at London’s Maison BertauxBruce as a tribute to the film’s star. She also named her 5,280 foot scarf project after actor Emilio Estevez, because the pattern reminds her of his 1983 film Nightmares, which co-starred Moon. The scarf even has its own Twitter page @EmilioScarf!)

Frank produced a few ‘horror’ films of his own: Bunny, Bunny, Bunny (1987) – featuring Moon, her cousin Lala Sloatman and their friend Kyle Richards – is frankly a home movie that should stay there. And all of Frank’s children have appeared in several slightly bigger budget movies (eg. Moon in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) and Last Will (2011); Dweezil in Pretty In Pink (1986) and The Running Man (1987); Ahmet in Pump Up The Volume (1990, which also featured cousin Lala) and Children Of The Corn V: Fields Of Terror (1998); and Diva in Play Dead (2001) and Do Not Disturb (2011)). The eldest three also made cameo appearances in Christmas comedy-drama Jack Frost (1998), while Disney’s The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (2012) was based on a story by Ahmet (he also co-produced it).

Notable Zappa fans in the film industry today include friend of the family Billy Bob Thornton, who claims to have had Holiday In Berlin (Full Blown) playing on a loop while writing the screenplay for Sling Blade (1996), and Rob Zombie whose Halloween II remake (2009) includes a character named Uncle Meat (the owner of the Java Hole coffee/record shop which prominently displays the Zappa Crappa poster), and also features a giant pumpkin sculpted by Denny Walley’s prop company in Atlanta (“It appears in the opening sequence,” points out Mr Steelfinger.)

New York thesp Michael Rapaport was one of the new piano people on Civilization Phaze III (1994, where his surname was misspelt as Rappaport). In 2011, Michael explained, “I used to date Moon Zappa. She’s a good friend of mine still. [Frank] used to get a kick out of the way I speak, so he was like, ‘Yo, you wanna come down there and talk on this album?’ We went down there and I talked on the album, and I felt like it was cool ‘cause he was Frank Zappa, and I was Mike Rappa – that’s what we used to joke. I used to always get a kick out of him, and I think he used to get a kick out of me.”

And finally…it is sometimes claimed that Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1971) was shot in the same studio as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Stanley Kubrick's film was in fact shot at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood and Shepperton Studios in Surrey, while 200 Motels was filmed at Pinewood in Iver Heath. The black monolith seen in Zappa's film is a mock-up and not the one from 2001, as Kubrick had all of the props destroyed once his film was completed.

That’s all, folks!

 

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