Created by eccentric rock musician Frank Zappa, the bizarre musical 200 Motels undoubtedly means more to Zappa fans and/or those habitually ingesting controlled substances, if not both. Belonging to neither group, I found almost nothing of virtue in 200 Motels. In fact, sitting through the movie’s 98 minutes—notwithstanding the passages that I’m fairly sure I slept through, but who can tell given the movie’s shambling excuse for “structure”—was an experience best described as laborious. Therefore, I can’t in good conscience suggest that plentiful redeeming qualities lurk in the wilds of 200 Motels, although it’s possible that’s true. As the saying goes, I calls ’em like I sees ‘em, and watching 200 Motels, I saw nothing but an endless barrage of self-indulgent nonsense. The title apparently refers to the temporary lodging that rockers inhabit while on tour, and Zappa drew material from the life of his on-again/off-again backing band, the Mothers of Invention. The plot (presuming there actually is one) concerns a band stopping off for mid-tour adventures in the town of Centerville, where one member leaves the group—or something like that. 200 Motels comprises lots of disassociated sketches, intercut with experimental passages that feel like bad examples of film-school endeavors (think mimes and A/V Club-style video effects), as well as a third layer of performance, during which the Mothers play with a full orchestra. Ringo Starr appears periodically, portraying a man dressed up like Frank Zappa, and the Who’s madman drummer, Keith Moon, appears every so often wearing a nun’s habit. Broadway actor Theodore Bikel pops up at regular intervals as some sort of MC in a military uniform. The real Zappa floats through the film like a ghost, mostly visible while conducting the orchestra in performance segments, Oh, and actresses playing groupies bare their breasts, because what’s a ’70s rock saga without some good, old-fashioned sexual objectification? The Mothers play songs including the interminable “Penis Dimension,” which largely comprises singing the word “penis” over and over again. It’s all quite exhausting to watch, and if there’s a central joke running through 200 Motels, it escaped me.
200 Motels: SQUARE