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Film: 200Motels

An unfinished movie by Frank Zappa. Starring the musician's own Mothers of Invention as caricature versions of themselves, it was supposed to tell a story of how a tour could drive a band insane, but a series of problems including reduced budget and one of the band members leaving during the process, made only one third of the script being filmed. The 1971 release features a new plot created by Zappa in the editing room in order to make something more or less coherent with what he could film. The resulting piece consists in a series of surreal sketches involving groupies, drugs and odd fetishes, all alternating and/or coexisting with music numbers ranging from orchestral pieces and rock 'n' roll cliche parodies.

It also stars Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf/Frank Zappa, Keith Moon as a nun groupie, Theodore Bikel as Rance Muhammitz and former Mothers

Many dialogues were based on records of actual conversations by the members of the band, were they talked things like leaving Zappa for being too old to rock 'n' roll. Bassist Jeff Simmons apparently didn't like at all of being spied, so he left the band. With jeff being sort of a protagonist in the main plot, a last-minute substitute came in the form of Ringo Starr's chauffeur Martin Lickert.

While one can only wonder what a really awesome movie would come out if it was actually finished, it's still a very entertaining film and a true Cult Classic, far more fun to watch than Uncle Meat, Zappa's other aborted film project (also released with what he could do).


"200 Tropes":

  • Actor Allusion: Larry The Dwarf (Ringo Starr) monologue about the retraining facility for musicians mentions how pop groups gain more money than orchestra musicians.
    • All the dialogues that were taken from taped recordings of the band talking - a big part of the movie.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The Mothers.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The groupies.
  • Bad Boss: The way the band sees Zappa. Zappa was aware that many felt he was a difficult task master, because he left cassette recordings around to tape people's conversations, something that is also spoofed in this movie. The fact that it's included in the film might only confirm it.
  • Bad Girl Song: The suite made of She Painted Up Her Face, Janet's Big Dance Number, Half a Dozen Provocative Squats, Mysterioso, Shove it Right In and Lucy's Seduction of a Bored Violinist
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Larry the Dwarf (dressed like Zappa) is hiding in the corner of various scenes, often with a tape recorder.
    • Rance appears in the middle of two musical sequences, laughing of the trouble in one of them.
  • Big Name Fan: In his book "Stupid White Men" Michael Moore suggested showing this movie to Kim-Jong Il to change his view points.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The film is aware it's cheap looking and mostly filmed on a set.
    • During "Strictly Genteel" Theodore Bikel even announces: "This, as you might have guessed is the end of the movie. The entire cast is assembled here to bid farewell to you and express thanks for your attendance at this theatre." Then he decides to sing a "kind of sentimental song that you get at the end of a movie, it's the kind of a song that people might sing to let you and the audience know that we really like and care about you." Near the end of the song the band members sing: "They're gonna clear out the studio" and summarize all the things they're going to do to clean up the set.
  • The Cameo: Famous groupie Pamela Des Barres as a rock 'n' roll journalist.
  • City in a Bottle: Not directly stated in the final movie, but maybe something was cut telling that Centerville is a fake city inside the retraining facility. Reinforced by the fact that the characters refers to places like fake nightclub and fake stage, although it can be simply a chessy Leaning on the Fourth Wall
  • Cool Pet: Motorhead Sherwood's newts.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite his giant face luring on the film poster and DVD cover Zappa is hardly seen in this movie. His total screen time takes up less than a minute and he doesn't even have a line.
  • Creator Cameo: Sort of. Zappa don't star in the movie itself, only appears as a musician in band-only music segments.
  • Cross Dresser:
    • Motorhead Sherwood and Mark Volman
    • Keith Moon as a nun.
  • Crowd Song: "Penis Dimension", sung by the whole cast with torches, and "Strictly Genteel", sung by the entire cast without torches.
  • Deal with the Devil: Rance Muhammitz/The Devil gives away hamburgers and beers, asking in exchange for a signature in blood.
  • Deep South: Lonesome Cowboy Hurt definitely hails from there.
  • Deleted Scene: Only parts of Zappa's script were filmed due to time and budget restrictions, causing the film to feel very incoherent.
  • Deranged Animation: "Dental Hygiene Dilemma".
  • Donald Duck: Has a cameo appearance during "Dental Hygiene Dilemma".
  • Dream Land: The narration states that it's a fantasy happened on the road. The movie can also be interpreted as a dream inside the retraining facility for musicians that Larry the Dwarf shows in his monologue.
  • Foreign Queasine: Theodore Bikel's line: "Lord, have mercy on the people of England and the terrible food these people must eat."
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Jeff's bad and good consciences fighting over him stealing the towels of the hotel room and quitting the band.
  • Greek Chorus: Whatever else he is, Rance Muhammitz functions as this. To some extent this is also true of Larry the Dwarf (Ringo Starr in Zappa disguise.)
  • Hulking Out: Don Preston drinks a potion that changes him into a monster.
    • Jeff Simmons also changes different shapes and acquires a duck face in "Dental Hygiene Dilemma".
  • I Have Many Names: Rance Muhammitz also goes by "Devil" and "Opal, You Hot Little Bitch".
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Magic Fingers", which starts as a very basic sexual rock 'n' roll song with lyrics like Ooh the way you looks me sugar, makes me so hot that I could die, and near the end turns into a disturbing atmosphere with a listing of proposed sexual activies including a golden shower
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Aynsley Dunbar.
  • Mind Screw: From the first until the last minute.
  • Miss Fan Service: Miss Lucy is seen bare breasted in some scenes.
  • Nightmare Face: Near the end of Schenkel's animation sequence a both funny and creepy photo of Zappa can be seen with vicious teeth cluttering and clattering up and down.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Donald Duck has a cameo in "Dental Hygiene Dilemma", obviously not with permission of the Walt Disney Company.
  • No Fourth Wall: All the characters (Rance and Larry the Dwarf, in particular), are aware that it's all a film.
  • Nonindicative Name: Not a road movie of a band visiting 200 motels. At least, it's not the case in this unfinished piece, and Zappa never claimed intended to do something like this.
  • Only in It for the Money: Jimmy Carl Black keeps asking when he'll get paid? This is also a Call Back to lines heard during "Flower Punk" on Were Only In It For The Money.
  • The Reptilians: The dancing newts during "The Lad Searches The Night For His Newts".
  • Shout-Out: Jeff dreams of quitting the band and forming a heavy band, one of the examples his bad conscience uses to how heavy the band should be is Grand Funk Railroad, which Zappa produced an album. Black Sabbath, whom Zappa was a fan of, is also mentioned.
  • Show Within a Show: Two game shows, one in the beginning, hosted by Rance Muhammitz with the guest Larry the Dwarf and one later on hosted by Flo and Eddie featuring the groupies talking about names of penises.
    • Cal Schenkel's animation sequence is also presented this way, being announced as a "dental hygiene documentary short" and having the film reels bounce up and down during the title sequence to make it seem as if a different film reel is put into the projector.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Despite centering around Zappa, being directed and composed by him and having him heavily promoted in the trailers Frank Zappa himself is hardly in this film. He is occasionally seen playing along with the group, but his total screen time takes up less than a minute. And he doesn't even have a line.
  • Surreal Humor: Although Zappa's surreal humor came mostly from bizarre injokes that probably could only be enjoyed at his fullest by him and his bandmates, it's still pretty funny in moments like Flo and Eddie tour around the boring little town of Centerville.
  • Title Drop: TWOO-HUNDRED MOTEEEELS during the animation sequence.
  • What Could Have Been: As with most of Zappa's film scripts the low budget (see "Uncle Meat") made it impossible to bring all of his ideas in a proper and complete way to the screen. Had Zappa and Tony Palmer been able to film the entire story from beginning to end it might have felt more coherent and a bit better to understand. The final product as it is now is a Base Breaker among Zappa fans. Many feel it to be a confusing disappointment, especially since Frank himself is hardly in it.
    • Originally actor Wilfred Brambell (best known for Steptoe And Son and Paul's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night) was also in this movie, but he felt it was all too crazy and left.
  • Wholesome Cross Dresser: Keith Moon is dressed as a Nun. Later scenes also show Mothers' band members dressed up as women in a bar.

24 Hour Party PeopleCreator/United ArtistsThe African Queen
SkylarkingAlbums IndexAbsolutely Free
Reazione a CatenaFilms of the 1970sTwo Lane Blacktop
Frank ZappaThe SeventiesJoe's Garage

alternative title(s): Two Hundred Motels
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