Cast & Crew
As Larry the Dwarf descends onto a television soundstage carrying a steaming genie lamp, the German announcer asks him why he is dressed as Frank Zappa, the leader of the music group The Mothers of Invention. Larry responds that Frank forces him to dress up in order to have sex with a nun playing the harp. The announcer, whose is actually an American named Rance Muhammitz, states that Larry's statements are part of the score to 200 Motels , a movie that occurred as a fantasy while The Mothers of Invention were touring. As the band, including Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar and George Duke, plays in concert, Muhammitz continues that the film addresses the ways in which "touring will make you crazy." The band stops in the town of Centerville, whose motto is "A real nice place to bring your kids up," consisting mainly of a boutique, a bar called Redneck Eats, the concert hall and a motel just like the hundreds of others in which they have stayed. As the band recovers from their show, Muhammitz appears and explains that the film's conceptual framework will be nonsensical. The band members realize that Frank is always listening to them, and attempt to act naturally so he cannot tell that they know he is recording them. While band member Cowboy Burtram cares only about the money they will earn for their roles in the film, another entourage member suggests that the musicians form a separate band and split from Zappa, who at thirty is too old for rock and roll. As Muhammitz, accompanied by a female reporter, talks to the band, Mark and Howard enter Centerville, watched and judged by two groupies, Lucy and Janet. In the bar, Cowboy Burtram sings to patrons wearing hardhats and pig masks. Later, Cowboy Burtram questions whether or not Muhammitz is the devil. Zappa states that the musician, as the consummate outsider, still has actual physical needs, and introduces an experimental reorientation facility designed to retrain useless old musicians. While some will enter the military and some learn shorthand, others will disappear on a special train. Back in the motel, Zappa feverishly writes a symphony. In his mind, the orchestra sings about soup and getting "hot and horny," after which the nun attempts to overdose. Meanwhile, Jeff, a former band member, takes drugs in a motel room and subsequently decides he is wasting his life and talent on Zappa's "comedy music." He then rolls the rancid bathroom rug into a cigarette and smokes it, after which he hallucinates images of alcohol, the devil, motel rooms and the other band members. The nun, afraid she is dying, is helped by Janet and Lucy, who then prepare to go out to what they call the "fake nightclub." As Janet performs a preparatory ritual involving squats, the band members also prepare for the evening, sprucing themselves up in the hope of finding a woman with whom to spend the night. Leaving their individual starting gates, much like at a race track, the men hurdle themselves into the club and quickly devolve into an orgy. After the nightclub is closed, one of the band members creates a potion and feeds it to another musician, who returns to his hotel room to hallucinate. Muhammitz returns to announce the end of the movie, as all of the characters gather on one stage to sing and sermonize.
Jimmy Carl Black
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Top Score Singers
David Van Asch
Filmed in the same studio as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The black monolith from that film is visible.
The role of Jeff was originally intended for Mothers bassist Jeff Simmons who quit the group just prior to filming. Needing a replacement, Frank Zappa hired Wilfrid Brambell. Within a few days, Brambell walked off the set in a rage and Zappa had to replace him. During a crew meeting, Zappa announced that he would give the part to the next person who walked into the room. Martin Lickert, who was Ringo Starr's chauffeur, was thus cast in the role upon returning from the limousine with a pack of cigarettes for Starr.
The movie was shot on videotape, at Pinewood Studios, London, England.
Unlike most movie musicals, the soundtrack was recorded live as the film was shot, instead of recording the soundtrack beforehand and then lipsynching during filming.
People offered parts in the movie included Vivian Stanshall, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Eric Idle.
Frank Zappa originally wanted 'Lee, Christopher' to play Rance Muhammitz.
The opening credits, which are in red, melt away like blood. All of the cast credits appear before the title. The opening credits read as follows: "The Mothers of Invention" [the name of Frank Zappa's band]//Theodore Bikel//"Music performed by The Mothers of Invention." These credits are followed by the names of the band members. All of the subsequent cast members are preceded by the word "Introducing." The title credit reads: Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. The closing credits are superimposed over pages from the picture's script, music sheets and memos pertaining to the production's budget. Ringo Starr, the drummer for The Beatles, plays famed experimental musician Zappa (1940-1993) in the film. Although Zappa himself appears in some scenes, he has no lines and is not listed in the onscreen cast credits. In addition to the songs listed above, many other snippets of compositions are heard throughout the film.
Zappa described 200 Motels, which marked his directorial debut, as a "surrealistic documentary." Designed to demonstrate the experience of life as a touring musician, the film mixes myriad avant-garde visual techniques, including superimpositions, dissolves, matte shots, special effects, animation and fast-and slow-motion sequences. The imagery is frequently surreal and psychedelic, involving actors in various costumes, dance sequences and live-action fantasies. As noted in many contemporary sources, the picture was shot over one week, at a cost of $600,000, on 2-inch video, then transferred to film. The first feature to use this video-to-film process, 200 Motels was also shot using the sharper image clarity of the European television system, providing 625 lines of resolution rather than the American 525-line system.
In addition, as noted in a letter to the Motion Picture Academy included in the file for the picture at the AMPAS Library, all of the special effects were created at the time of the film's production rather than during post-production. The quality and range of the effects were remarked on in most of the film's reviews. Hollywood Reporter called the colors, designed by Technicolor's Vidtronics subsidiary, "probably the most vivid ever seen on screen."
The film includes an eight-minute animated sequence entitled "Dental Hygiene Dilemma," created by Murakami Wolf Productions, Inc. and directed by Charles Swenson. According to modern sources, the sequence depicts the real-life incidents pertaining to Jeff Simmons, the bass player for The Mothers of Invention, who quit the band just before the production began, reportedly frustrated with his role in the band and in the film. Simmons is played in 200 Motels by Martin Lickert, Starr's chauffeur, and one scene in the picture addresses the fact that Simmons had recently quit the band.
The picture marked the feature film debut of Keith Moon, the drummer for the rock band The Who. Starr, also a drummer (as was Zappa), plays the bass guitar in 200 Motels. According to modern sources, other actors and musicians approached to appear in the film include Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Idle and Christopher Lee.
A November 20, 1970 Daily Variety news item noted that the film's soundtrack would be released on United Artists Records. The soundtrack includes many songs that were not in the film. Modern sources note that only a third of the music Zappa had written for the film was included in the final version.
In 1988, Zappa released The True Story of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels, a documentary containing footage shot during the filming of 200 Motels that includes previously unreleased interviews with Starr, Moon and Bikel. A July 2001 Hollywood Reporter article reported that Zappa's widow Gail had sued M-G-M over the rights to the screenplay for 200 Motels. In the suit, according to the article, Gail Zappa stated that M-G-M purchased the rights to the soundtrack in 1998 but in 2000 filed a claim for renewal of the film's copyright registration, in which it had no interest. The disposition of the suit is unknown.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States on Video April 1988
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States on Video April 1988