Thursday, August 17, 2006

BABY SNAKES, NO PLANE



Late at night is when they come out
Sure you know what I'm talkin' about...


One day about 18 years ago I was home sick with the flu. I decided to lay down on the floor, wrap myself up in a blanket, make some hot Orange Tang and watch Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes, which I had procured from a local video store. I remember I had a pretty high fever that day, and as Zappa’s movie began spilling out of my TV set, I began to get delirious. After a while I couldn’t tell if it was because I was sick, or because Zappa’s freeform throw-it-on-the-wall- and-follow-it-with-the-camera-as-it-doesn’t-stick-
but-slides-onto-the-floor approach, interspersed with generous dollops of Bruce Bickford's surreal (and, that day at least, slightly queasy-making) clay animation and large, juicy slices from Zappa’s 1977 Halloween concert were taking advantage of my debilitated state and sending me places in my head I was not equipped to go.

August 17, 2006. I had a fever last week for a few hours, but I’m okay now, and just in time, because the American Cinematheque will unveil, on this very evening, the only surviving 35mm print of what is, according to the AC’s press notes, “Zappa’s lost masterpiece,” Baby Snakes, here in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theater at 7:30 p.m. (The movie will also show on August 31 at the Aero in Santa Monica.) Zappa’s aggressively playful, absurd big-screen account of his all-conquering (at least all who were there!) 1977 Halloween concert in New York City was famously tinkered with and fussed over for a good long time by Frank before he unleashed it on a supremely uninterested movie-going public back in 1979. Zappa’s vision was, of course, a few light-years ahead of its time (Grease was still the word back then, remember?), but it would have been ridiculous to think that anyone but his hard-core constituency would have sat up and taken notice of the film under even the most generous of circumstances.

However, the legend of the film prevailed, mainly through the popularity among the faithful of the film’s soundtrack, which features such FZ classics as “Titties ‘n’ Beer,” “The Black Page,” “Jones Crusher,” “Punky’s Whips” and, of course, the titular track, many of which were performed during Dweezil Zappa’s Zappa Plays Zappa concert by Baby Snakes central figure, drummer Terry Bozzio himself.

And now, Frank’s widow Gail is heading up an effort to restore the brilliant musician’s film library in time for the unveiling of what the AC terms a full-scale Zappa film retrospective ( !!!! ) in time for next summer’s Mods and Rockers Festival at the Egyptian. Baby Snakes is the inaugural shot off this particularly exciting bow. (Gail will be at the Egyptian tonight for a Q-and-A after the show.) Whether or not the screening tonight bodes well for an upcoming DVD release, I certainly don't know. But the rare opportunity to see Baby Snakes on the big screen, either tonight at the Egyptian or August 31 at the Aero, ought to be enough for Zappa fans and those interested in the arcana of Zappa’s zippy and twisted history of self-documentation on film. Like I said, I’m feeling fine tonight, and I’d love to be there, but I may just have to settle for a mug of Orange Tang and my 200 Motels laserdisc. But I’ll be there in spirit. Just like FZ.

8 comments:

Ian W. Hill said...

Dennis,

Baby Snakes is very definitely already out on DVD with a fine fine superfine digitally retweezed 5.1 soundtrack and extras, and so forth and so on . . .

Highly recommended. Now we just need 200 Motels to get a DVD release with as much restoration as is possible (not much, unfortunately, given the source materials). That one's up to MGM/UA, but the Zappa Family Trust seems to be working on the material they own bit by bit . . .

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Ian. I wasn't sure and was, frankly, too groggy to look it up last night, so I appreciate your stepping in there. I've always hoped that MGM/UA would spiff up 200 Motels, and I know that they're really digging deep into their catalog these days, but there are, alas, no guarantees. But this film catalog restoration project does give me hope. I can't wait to see what Gail and company unveil next year!

Brian said...

I've never seen these films, but I've always liked that song...

They live by a code
That is usually smpte

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian, I almost quoted that line at the beginning! I'm glad everybody is lifting me up by my boot straps today!

Eric Henderson said...

Happy birthday, dude!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Eric! Your Carrie present is just what I needed to start off my day! (And I dig your new "Bobby" header too!)

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Dennis!

Glad you liked the 'package' - even doubly pleased that it made a nice birthday present.

Robert H.

David Lowery said...

Your experience watching Baby Snakes sounds almost exactly like my first introduction to...Teletubbies. Totally far out.

If you haven't seen it already, you should check out Monster Road, a documentary about Bruce Bickford. It's pretty amazing. It was on the festival circuit last year, and I think it shows up on IFC or Sundance Channel now. It also just came out on DVD a month or so ago. Very worthwhile.