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Case Number 23159: Small Claims Court

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Frank Zappa: From Straight To Bizarre

MVD Visual // 2011 // 161 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // January 20th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert was dazzled by the exciting new costume of Coco in a way he can't explain.

The Charge

"I didn't want to be a hippie. I didn't want to be a flower child. I fit right in with the freaks because I wanted to blow minds in whatever way I possibly could."—GTOs lead singer Pamela Des Barres

The Case

With Frank Zappa: From Straight To Bizarre, the avid classic-rock chroniclers at Chrome Dreams UK may have invented a new genre: the simultaneous sequel. Not exactly taking up where Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the 1960s left off, this finds us in the middle of that story, when Zappa—eternally frustrated by the meddling corporate suits at MGM/Verve Records—conspired with manager Herb Cohen to establish a label of their own. No mere vanity label nor just another house of hits, the pair appropriately named their fledgling concern Bizarre (later rechristened Straight), in order to reflect Zappa's aim of filling the roster with uniquely musical misfits who'd never get past the reception desk at the money-hungry majors.

Bizarre luminaries included…

• Larry "Wildman" Fischer, a twice institutionalized paranoid schizophrenic, discovered while hawking his largely non-musical, repetitive rhyme "original songs for a dime" on the Sunset Strip.

• GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), evolved from a photogenic pack of young Hollywood groupies with zero musical experience.

• Alice Cooper, originally the name for a group of five that just happened to feature a singer named Vincent Furnier.

• The Persuasions, an acapella gospel and doo-wop quintet hired sight unseen after a successful telephone audition.

• Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), a high school pal of Zappa who—along with his Magic Band—arguably produced the labels' masterpiece LP releases: Trout Mask Replica (1969) and Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970).

All of these acts (and more) are represented by past and present-day interviews, performance clips, and a posse of professional rock historians—prime Beatles biographer Barry Miles, Rolling Stone writer Richie Unterberger, "freak scenester" Kim Fowley, and general Zappa factotum Billy James—to put the labels' five year history (1968-1973) into perspective.

While many retrospectives bog down under the weight of such "expert" testimony and analysis, Frank Zappa: From Straight to Bizarre is amazingly concise (even at a whopping 161 minutes!), and my interest never flagged. The film's many music samplings are particularly helpful in providing insight regarding the artists documented, as (unfortunately) most of the labels' product is currently unavailable, presumably due to the Zappa family's unwillingness to rerelease much of its eccentric catalog.

The DVD's coalition of sights and sounds are well presented in a standard definition 1.33:1 full-screen transfer with a PCM 2.0 stereo mix. Extras include a pair of five minute interviews cut from the feature for time, the first of which—a present day interview with Jerry Lawson of The Persuasions—provides the set's most touching moment.

Don't let the legalese about "This Program Is Not Sanctioned By Any Of The Performers Or Companies On Which It Focuses" dissuade you. Zappa fan or not, you need to see this one!

The Verdict

The whole rotten system may be guilty, but this DVD is not!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 96

Perp Profile

Studio: MVD Visual
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 161 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Interviews
• Bios

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