Archive for November, 2015

The Movie

Posted: November 14, 2015 in album review, folklore, zappa, zappology

Roxy_Invite

On October 14, 2015 the Roxy Eon eventually found his way to the closing when Roxy: The Movie had his world premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California. As an old European Zappa hard-core fanatic, I had to wait a couple of weeks more to get the Eagle Rock DVD (the DVD + CD version) and when The Movie at last started, I could hardly believe my eyes.

In the meantime I kept watching the trailer.

As can be readily seen through this taster, the shooting is sometimes slightly out of focus but in spite of its venerable age, it gives intensely back the power and the fun of one of the best Zappa bands. Although the aspect ratio of the original film is 4:3, the production decided to crop it to 16:9, the modern day audience loose something but they say they did it to bring the Movie to contemporary standards.

It is possible to compare the result with the 4:3 Montana-Dupree’s Paradise footage available on the Internet since 2006.

As it would have been clear few days later, strangely enough this 32 minutes sort of Short Roxy has not been included in the Roxy: The Movie release, as well as the Dummy Up Roxy episode (featuring special guest Jeff Simmons) presented into The True Story Of 200 Motels, a 1988 Honker Home Video.

Finally, I put my hands on this long awaited audiovisual and my first hour or two into The Movie has been rather erratic, I couldn’t help going around here and there looking for the visuals of what I knew deeply by hard (Roxy & Elsewhere) or simply by hard (Roxy by Proxy), watching for instance at the Be-Bop Tango dance (featuring Carl Franzoni and Brenda the Stripper!), or discovering that it is Ralph Humphrey playing timpani on Cheepnis – Percussion towards the end, living the one and only Chester Thompson on drums. Then I started looking for new material, in terms of different takes if compared with the Roxy recordings included in the albums (Roxy & Elsewhere, Roxy by Proxy, YCDTOSA) and I realized that new stuff is mainly in the extras even though there are plenty of nice little differences scattered around.

Frank Zappa made as usual a lot of post production work, such differences are often due to the fact that The Movie is a no-overdubs view over The Roxy concerts. As clarified by Joe Travers, five performances: “one soundcheck/invite-only type show on the 8th. Then two shows on each night after.” Probably followed by at least one day of studio sessions at Bolic Sound.

Relevant on this matter is the following excerpt of a 1977 interview by Tony Bacon (Zappa, International Musician And Recording World, March, 1977):

“A good example of all this is the “Be Bop Tango” (from the “Roxy and Elsewhere” live album). On that, the drums are original, the bass is original, the piano is original, the trombone is original and most of the tenor is original, but the rest of the synthesizer stuff was put on at the studio. There’s also some stuff that sounds like trumpets in there that are actually Bruce Fowler playing at half speed. He can play the thing up to speed on the trombone, it just comes out an octave lower.”

However, beside the new material (more on this subject later), the main difference between all sources concerns the mix and the overall sound. The sound of The Movie (and of the soundtrack CD of course) is near to the one of the Roxy & Elsewhere album, however the mix is slightly different, George Duke for instance is on a lower level on The Movie and sometimes other instruments are also low in the mix, with the exception of the percussion section. My feeling is that R&E sounds better balanced, but it also true that The Movie mix emphasizes the percussive nature of the music. Speaking of that, every time the camera leaves the dynamic trio (Ruth, Ralph & Chester) you are going to say “No, bring them back”!

On the other side, Roxy by Proxy (a UMRK 1987 Digital re-mix by Bob Stone) and the Roxy YCDTOSA recordings (a mix from the same era) sound much more drier (I would say “digital”, as Gail also does in the liner notes) and differently mixed than The Movie and the original album (as Gail too, I would call this ones “analog”). George Duke for instance is much more in front in the digital eighties realm than in his analog seventies incarnation. Compare Inca Roads, in Roxy by Proxy George is drier and more in front than in The Movie, both voice and keyboards.

The following table shows the main Roxy recordings available through various official sources, from the point of view of The Movie contents. It is useful to quickly see if a certain piece is available in more than one album or video. For a precise comparison between all Roxy sources please refer to “The Roxy Performances” page at IINK, a fantastic place to push forward any FZ knowledge.

The Roxy official recordings (for the sake of brevity it does not include Dummy Up from The True Story Of 200 Motels)

The Roxy official recordings (for the sake of brevity it does not include Dummy Up from The True Story Of 200 Motels)

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As shown in the table, The Movie also includes further material as: end credit features, three extra tracks and two hidden pieces. Unfortunately all such extras are not included on the soundtrack CD that it is also a subset of The Movie itself (see table).

End credits flow first over a (16:9) Bolic Sound Studio short footage of Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, interleaved with video only fragments of The Movie presenting the musicians. Credits end over an audio only Bolic fragment of Father O’Blivion.

The three extra tracks suffer of a low-fi mono audio, nevertheless they are more than needed: two of them are new and Zappa takes a great (unreleased) solo on Pygmy Twylyte, that also features some innocently lascivious dancing by Pamela Miller De Barres.

One of the hidden tracks (search zappateers for menu tricks) is Cheepnis, a “tiny film”, iTunes only 2013 release. It is a 4:3 ratio film and it is presented as follow:

“Outside of a segment included in “The True Story Of 200 Motels,” the following tiny film is the only edited piece by FZ from the Roxy footage identified from the Vault thus far.”

 

Cheepnis, December 17, 2013, iTunes

Cheepnis, December 17, 2013, iTunes

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Cheepnis, Debbie Wilson and Linda Sims

Cheepnis, Debbie Wilson and Linda Sims

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It has been filmed and recorded at The Roxy & Bolic Sound in December 1973 and features Debbie Wilson and Linda Sims. An absolute must that once again focuses on the monster movies topic as the DVD cover does, as promptly noticed on the killuglyradio Roxy: The Movie page.

theatrical release poster for It Conquered The World

theatrical release poster for It Conquered The World

Roxy: The Movie cover

Roxy: The Movie cover

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The other hidden feature is a 4:3 mute accelerated footage of the Roxy stage, probably a sound check or a technical session of some sort, over a speeded up bass/guitars version of Uncle Meat. Yet another lost episode to be revealed.

Said that the great three extras are inexplicably low-fi audio, the Dummy Up episode has been permanently confined to The True Story Of 200 Motels, and that the Montana-Dupree’s Paradise (4:3) short film has been left floating around in a low 2006 Internet quality, this, folks, is a veritable feast of lore, and you will enjoy every single minute, in spite of the fact that image quality is sometimes far from perfect.

To reach such a fantastic result the production had to resolve an audio/video synchronization rebus, dramatically depicted by John Albarian (who edited the footage) in the liner notes, an issue that could have been solved only through digital technology.

In the liner notes Gail Zappa tells about the frustration of Frank who “mixed and mixed and mixed away (analog quad in ’74, digital stereo in ’87, with Roxy & Elsewhere in between) but the mad cocktail was too big for the beakers of ancient algorhythmic machinations”. She must have been particularly happy for this result.

However Frank Zappa did not show to the public his technical nightmares, rather, in line of the Penguin in Bondage preamble, he once again used to say that a movie like this would not have commercial potential.

Thanks to the IINK “The Roxy Performances” page we have this quote form the lecture at the Gifford Auditorium, Syracuse, 04/23/75:

“Can you tell us if anything is going on with your ‘Live at the Roxy’ movie?”

“Well, I wish there was…The status of that film is this: I spent about $30.000-40.000 trying to get the thing on film, and I got it on film, and there’s some things that happened down there that were absolutely fabulous. However, they’re too weird to show on television, and I don’t think there’s really a market in the theaters for a straight concert film like that.. So right now, it’s sitting in my shelf, being an expensive piece of home movie. Maybe one day, when TV loosens up a little bit, we’ll be able to show the lovely Brenda, doing…(FZ and George Duke laugh)…that was a real nice piece of film, that Brenda…(more laughter).”

Such “loosen” moments are now forever part of The Movie!

But there’s another quote that resonates with The Movie:

“It’s like yelling through the wall of the time capsule of your reader’s mind.”
From “A Conversation With Frank Zappa
By Dave Rothman
Oui, April, 1979

Actually FZ was in a line of reasoning concerning his sixties, however if you replace “your reader” with “the watcher” such a time image precisely describe the feeling of a bunch of old hard-core fanatics sited in a dark video room highly pumped with The Roxy volume.

An experience hopefully to be repeated soon in a cinema near them!

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Credits

Roxy, Los Angeles, CA
December 8-10, 1973

Produced by FZ, GZ, Ahmet Zappa & Jeff Stein
Edited & co-produced by John Albarian
Digital Restoration by Ben Satory
Post Production Coordinator Sid Patel

Film and Sound Crew: Camouflage Productions
Hand-held Camera: Barry Feinstein

Original 16-Track recordings produced by FZ with Kerry McNabb
Sound truck: Wally Heider Mobile
Mix and mastering by Bruce Botnick
Vaultmeisterment & music transfers by Joe Travers

Art of packaging by GZ, Michael Mesker & Ahmet Zappa
Liner notes by GZ & John Albarian

Frank Zappa: lead guitar, vocals
George Duke: keyboards, synthesizer, vocals
Tom Fowler: bass
Ruth Underwood: percussion
Bruce Fowler: trombone, dancing (?), vocals
Napoleon Murphy Brock: tenor sax, flute, lead vocals
Ralph Humphrey: drums
Chester Thompson: drums

Special Appearances by:
Pamela Des Barres
Carl Franzoni
Brenda
Joan Sloatman
Carl, Rick, Jane & Lana

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More information, lyrics, dialogues at the Roxy: The Movie page at IINK.
Lyrics and dialogues also on the Roxy & Elsewhere album are printed in red.
Lyrics and dialogues also on previous CDs are printed in light grey.

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