As the sun set behind the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a screen affixed to a wall of shipping containers flickered on. I sat in a camping chair by my car, awaiting the screening of ZAPPA — the first film to kick off the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival at Motorama at the Downs.
Although the newly opened drive-in movie theater Motorama has many COVID-19 precautions in place, the intimacy of normal cinema was preserved by concessions, chatter and lively music playing before the movie began. One couple at the ZAPPA showing said it was their first date night in six months; others mentioned they hadn't been to the movies since March. Even if for just a couple of hours, a sense of normalcy seemed to return to viewers' lives. It is comforting how entertainment — films, music and books — is able to afford us an escape when it's needed most.
My only knowledge of Frank Zappa before watching this film was that he was an eccentric celebrity who named one of his kids Moon Unit. I was doubtful I would get a multidimensional depiction of him from watching the movie because a single person is difficult to accurately portray, but ZAPPA pulled it off by artistically mirroring Zappa’s wonderfully bizarre and psychedelic aesthetic. The movie resurrected Zappa through the words of those he spent time with, by montages of home videos, masterfully spliced interviews, recordings of his performances and pieces of his visual media.
The film portrays Zappa as a prolific artist who applied a nonconformist mentality to every medium he worked with, including rock music, orchestra, videography and politics. He was a disruptor who lived to question social norms. Zappa defended freedom of speech and opposed censorship and had a remarkable music career that was motivated by his ardent love of creative expression, not by money or by commercial success.
ZAPPA did not shy away from displaying the real-life character's faults, such as his limited role as a father and his affairs with women outside his marriage. In doing so, Zappa became more accessible than if he had been portrayed only as an artistic genius.
Although Zappa died in 1993, this film is extremely relevant. At a time when our country is increasingly polarized and so many forms of art are corrupted by commercialization, ZAPPA is a vital film to see.
I was particularly impacted by Zappa's ability to take risks. I’ve heard that being able to take risks and accept failure is necessary for creativity. Zappa was the embodiment of this lesson. As a generation, I think it is imperative we strive to be as uninhibited by fear and as freethinking as Zappa, and this film lends viewers the inspiration to be so.