ZAPPA (2020) Reviews of music documentary


Zappa is a 2020 American documentary film written and directed by Alex Winter that looks into the life and work of musician Frank Zappa. Includes interviews with Steve Vai, Pamela Des Barres, Gail Zappa, Ian Underwood, Ruth Underwood and archive footage of Václav Havel and Bruce Bickford.


“Winter gives the movie a wild, frenzied (but still very coherent) pace that replicates the speed with which its central figure’s mind worked. Music was not disposable to Frank Zappa. It was vital and life-affirming. The film appreciates and celebrates that viewpoint. By the end, we feel like we fully understand the mixture of playfulness and rebellion that infused his entire career.” The Aisle Seat

“We repeatedly see young Zappa and various members of the Mothers of Invention sticking their legs above their heads in a juvenile, ass-forward display of impudence. But it’s performative, part of the act. Zappa was serious even about mockery. That’s what keeps me from liking his music but it sure makes him a good subject for a documentary.” Battleship Pretension

“Not everything is fully explored (I would have like to hear more about Zappa’s relationship with Captain Beefheart, but that’s probably a documentary unto itself), and only a small handful of songs are presented in their entirety, but such are the risks of condensing such a varied career into a single feature film. There’s material here that even the most obsessive Zappa devotee has never seen, yet it’s presented in such a way that it just might inspire a new generation of fans.” Boston Hassle

” …a well-rounded film that not only benefits from access to the musician’s private vaults but also helped rescue their contents […] The results will be both celebrated by fans and useful to those of us who remain on the fence — a spirited portrait that doesn’t shy away from Zappa’s ornery side but makes a good case for the legitimacy of his art, which always baffled those who expected to be able to slap a label on it.” The Hollywood Reporter

“While some of Zappa’s lyrics have been criticized for being sexist and puerile […] that aspect of his musical output is pretty much glossed over. The other problem is that the lack of any full performances of his songs will not exactly bolster the case for his musical genius […] Other than that, the film is a complex and surprisingly satisfying portrait of an artist who defiantly marched to the beat of a different drummer (or two).”

“As his former timpanist Ruth Underwood says regarding one of his pieces, .”.. you couldn’t really categorize it. You’d say that’s rock & roll… that’s Jazz… that’s pop music… No, it wasn’t. Not at all. Well what the Hell is it? It’s Zappa!” Alex Winter’s “Zappa” is one of the best documentaries on an artist to come along in a long time, one that should find its way to the Best Films of 2020 section with little effort.” Screen Comment

“A richly three-dimensional portrait, Zappa manages to be at once impressed by Zappa’s talent and aware of his being a pain in the ass, while not limited by those perceptions. “It won’t be perfection,” Zappa tells an eager 1991 audience in the first scene of the documentary, knowing that he is somewhat rusty after years away from the stage. “It’ll just be music.” Slant magazine

“The film could’ve gained layers of intimacy through its interviews, which it does to an extent.  I really liked listening to his wife Gail Zappa and former musician Ruth Underwood reflect on their own experiences.  But, everyone’s memories of Zappa have such harsh associations to his particular, idiosyncratic personality that even these people who were really close to him are still trying to figure him out.” Wylie Writes

Technical details:

129 minutes