Screened Out – Eat That Question

By : Stephen Miller
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Documentary by Thorsten Schütte

“They don’t make it easy for you to be a musician in America. Musicians are treated like useless adjuncts to society, unless they do something like write a Coca-Cola lyric. Otherwise they’re regarded as the scum of the earth. So, when you start, you have to realize that no one will care for a long time.”

There’s no question that Frank Zappa was an interesting character. People remember him as the penultimate musician. He was a songwriter, composer, producer, and experimenter. Zappa created pop, rock, jazz, and even strange synthesized tunes. He made over 60 albums before he succumbed to prostate cancer in 1993, at the age of 52.

“I’ve always wanted to be a serious musician,”

Yet Zappa did and said things that set him apart as an oddball and auteur. He didn’t use drugs or alcohol. Yet, Zappa said shocking, pornographic, and silly things with a level, serious voice. He named his kids Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva.

Thorsten Schütte is new to documentary; his editing is excellent, but his construct is limiting.

Thorsten Schütte is new to documentary; his editing is excellent, but his construct is limiting.

Filmmaker Thorsten Schütte is new to the long-form documentary style. If Eat That Question is any indication, Schütte lets his subjects speak for themselves. Almost everything here is interview. It’s a neat idea that wears itself out. Zappa keeps us engaged.

Schütte’s approach is also ironic. Zappa hated the media. Zappa often accused the press of sabotaging his career; he especially hated Rolling Stone. Yet, here he is in one interview after another – even with Rolling Stone – trying to explain all his inconsistencies.

“I’m an entertainer,” he says bluntly.

Some of his compositions were so challenging – “out there” TV host Steve Allen said – that they weren’t always entertaining.

Some people still say he sucked as a musician, but was brilliant at being a celebrity.

Whether Eat That Question is actually important is another question altogether. I could see fans loving this. I don’t think Shutte’s film ever answers why others – especially people new to Zappa’s works – should even care.

More input by others is needed in this flick. We need critics and contemporaries, and even modern musicians who could give emotional heft to Zappa’s legacy.

That supposedly would kill Schütte’s purified idea to let Zappa represent himself. Unfortunately, Schütte’s gimmick goes to extreme; it hems poor Frank and his story in. Having just a few other voices wouldn’t rob Zappa of the opportunity he has to explain his thoughts.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

At least the interviews Schütte chooses are entertaining. Zappa is erudite and clever. The few live shots we see – they get cut short – give only an idea of his work.

All in all, it’s a quiet, small documentary trapped by Schütte’s artistic manifesto. Zappa and his art blew through such limitations. When we sense that, Eat That Question is excellent.

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