Eat That Question is not an introduction to the music of Frank Zappa.
Thorsten Schütte has focused on Zappa’s words and opinions rather than his music, although he does include some interesting footage of Frank in action. Onstage with guitar he conducts his band with one-finger gestures that suggest a stoned Pope making the sign of the cross. On the plus side, Zappa speaks more intelligently than most musicians about music. Indeed, Zappa spoke more intelligently about most things than most people. My ‘stoned Pope’ image would have quickly raised his wrath. Zappa was not a promoter of the drugged-up lifestyle. He speaks openly about enforcing his no-drugs rule when touring. If you’re stoned, you can’t do your job – that was Frank’s reasoning. Which kind of makes him a trailblazer in employment policy too. When your straightneck boss with the suit and tie demands a urine sample, he’s following in the footsteps of Frank Zappa. Ponder that a moment…
Zappa was the non-conformist’s non-conformist. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t rebel against. He had an equal-opportunity approach to government. In two segments, filmed years apart, Zappa belts Republicans and Democrats with equal dislike.
His lone musical performance shown complete is as memorable for his appearance as for the music itself. Frank Zappa, suburban bank teller! TV compere Steve Allen scores a few jokes at Frank’s expense. No doubt he felt he was owed that much after helping Zappa play a bicycle.
Eat That Question includes a short piece from Zappa’s visit to Australia in 1973, during which he appeared on a program called Monday Conference. It’s fortunate that the show wasn’t recorded in colour. The stripy material of presenter Bob Moore’s jacket would probably fry our eyeballs today.
All Things Ablaze puts the viewer at the heart of the 2014 protest in Kiev.
There’s not a lot of structure to this piece; no cutting away from the confrontations in the street to academics in thick glasses who nervously provide background detail. The film makers weren’t looking to record the specifics of the protest in Independence Square, but to rather to describe a template of protest:
This film is not about the revolution that changed Ukraine this winter… It is rather about a universal pattern of particular kind of revolutions – those ones that imply violence. It shows how the energy of a people full of endeavor for freedom collides with the dark force of repressive rulers; and when the first casualties on both sides fall, no matter how black and white it seems from outside, the edge between good and bad blurs when one looks from the epicenter of a battle…
‘Epicenter’ is right. Aleksey Solodunov and his co-directors took handheld cameras in among the protesters, and up to the line where protest met the State. In the early stages the protesters bond, united in communal action against the authorities. But the bonds fracture and calm is lost as the calls for violence grow louder. There were times when I groaned at the arguments of the hotheads; I may have muttered ‘Really stupid idea!’ or ‘Shut up and let your brain do some work!’ aloud at some point. Fortunately I was isolated at the front of the cinema from the rest of the audience – who joined me in guilty chucklings when the angry young men brought out the Molotovs and set only themselves on fire.
Nuts! Is the story of John Romulus Brinkley.
In the course of his relatively short life – he was dead at 57 – Brinkley amassed wealth and fame, but died without a dollar and reviled by those who had once lauded him. I’ll be Brinkley’s age myself in a couple of years. At least I’ve got time to figure out how I went straight to broke and despised without ever getting close to the big dollars and the love of millions. But this is Brinkley’s story, not mine, and a remarkably strange tale it is.
Bigamist. Charlatan. Media mogul. Political aspirant. Brinkley didn’t stand still in one place for long. He gained prominence when he claimed that he could cure a man’s impotence by implanting goat testicles into his scrotum. He later performed the same operation on women, and expanded the list of ailments his treatment could cure to include. Dementia and flatulence, for a start. When the AMA questioned his credentials – short version: he had none – Brinkley refused to back down.
Director Penny Lane presents Brinkley’s biography as animation, appropriately enough for this larger than life figure. Lane seduces her audience just as Brinkley seduced his, seeming to take Brinkley at his word before she eases the myths aside. The man beneath is not particularly likeable, or honourable. Quite apart from his medical malfeasances, Brinkley had a habit of marrying women without completing divorce proceedings with his previous spouse. Driven initially by the hardships and poverty of his youth, Brinkley exhausted himself in legal battles. He died with fraud charges hanging over him, another in the long line of con artists who garner both praise and condemnation for a time before their house of sand is consumed and they slide into obscurity.