Frank Zappa's Surrealistic Documentary and Soundtrack 200 Motels Gets Multi-Format 50th Anniversary Treatment

Here's the press release:
Los Angeles – September 24, 2021 – Released in October 1971, Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels” was a miraculous feat, a cinematic collision of the venerated musician and composer’s kaleidoscopic musical and visual worlds that brought together Zappa and his band, The Mothers, Ringo Starr as Zappa – as “a large dwarf” – Keith Moon as a perverted nun, Pamela Des Barres in her acting debut, noted thespian Theodore Bikel, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and an incredible assortment of characters (both on screen and off) for a “surrealistic documentary” about the bizarre life of a touring musician. A heady, psychedelic stew of low and high brow art forms, the film, written by Zappa and co-directed by him and Tony Palmer, mixed together irreverent comedic skits, madcap satire, eye-popping animation and virtuosic on-screen musical performances from both The Mothers and the RPO for a fascinating and free-wheeling multimedia extravaganza. Shot in just 10 days with a budget of around $650,000 from distributor United Artists, “200 Motels” was one of the first movies to be filmed entirely on videotape and Zappa and crew pushed the envelope of the burgeoning new medium’s possibilities, mostly notably through its use of spectacular – and at the time – state-of-the-art visual effects. Described by Zappa as “at once a reportage of real events and an extrapolation of them… other elements include ‘conceptual by-products’ of the extrapolated ‘real event’ … In some ways the contents of the film are autobiographical,” “200 Motels” was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a “a stunning achievement” with “just the right touch of insanity,” and the “Zaniest piece of filmusical fantasy-comedy since The Beatles' ‘A Hard Day's Night’” by Daily Variety.

The music, and its corresponding soundtrack, was equally diverse, a wild pastiche of avant garde rock and orchestral compositions interspersed with dialog from the film. Up until that time, compositions like the finale piece, “Strictly Genteel,” were some of the most ambitious material ever written and recorded by Zappa. The band in the film and on the soundtrack consisted of Frank Zappa (guitar & bass), Mark Volman (vocals & special material), Howard Kaylan (vocals & special material), Ian Underwood (keyboards & winds), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards & trombone), Martin Lickert (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (vocals), and Ruth Underwood (orchestra drum set), not to mention the aforementioned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In true Zappa fashion as he wrote in the album’s original liner notes, “This music is not in the same order as in the movie. Some of this music is in the movie. Some of this music is not in the movie. Some of the music that’s in the movie is not in the album. Some of the music that was written for the movie is not in the movie or the album. All of this music was written for the movie, over a period of 4 years. Most of it (60%) was written in motels while touring.”

In celebration of “200 Motels” golden anniversary, Zappa Records, UMe and MGM have assembled a definitive Super Deluxe six-disc box set of the beloved, yet hard to find, soundtrack for release on November 19. Fully authorized by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers, the monstrous 200 Motels 50th Anniversary Edition brings together the original soundtrack, newly remastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, along with a staggering amount of unreleased and rare material unearthed from FZ’s Vault, including original demos, studio outtakes, work mixes, interviews and movie ads, along with newly discovered dialog reels, revealing an early audio edit of the film. Also included is a wealth of never-before-heard audio documentary material surrounding the project.

Discs 1 and 2 feature the remastered soundtrack with the second half of the second disc consisting of demos and demo outtakes; two of the many highlights from these sessions include unreleased alt mixes and alt takes of the Chunga’s Revenge tunes, “Road Ladies” and “Tell Me You Love Me.” Discs 3 and 4 contain the “Dialog Protection Reels,” which reveal an early version of the movie, while Disc 5 and 6 present unreleased outtakes, alternates and historical nuggets sequenced in the order of the original shooting script, the way Zappa originally envisioned before he ran into time and budget constraints. These illuminating discs reveal Zappa’s original intent for the film for the first time.

The six-disc set will be housed in a 64-page hardcover book in a handsome 12” x 12” slipcase. The packaging replicates the original booklet updated with revealing new liner notes from Pamela Des Barres, Ruth Underwood and Joe Travers, as well as Patrick Pending’s essay from the 1997 reissue, and is chock full of motion picture artwork, stills and images, from the film and its making, many which have never been seen before. This must-have collector’s release will also include a custom “200 Motels” keychain and Do-No-Disturb motel door hanger and a full-size replica of the original movie poster. Years in the making, all the audio was meticulously identified and transferred over several years as Travers dug through the Vault to create a new high resolution 96K/24B digital patchwork stereo master from the original analog tapes. The Vault material was mastered by John Polito in 2021.

The remastered 200 Motels soundtrack will also be reissued on vinyl as a 2LP pressed on 180-gram black vinyl and also as a limited edition red vinyl pressing on 180-gram vinyl, which will only be available exclusively through, or Both will be pressed by Optimal Media in Germany and be the first time the album has been available on vinyl in decades. The soundtrack will also be released on 2CD and all formats will include a smaller version of the movie poster. Additionally, the entire Super Deluxe Edition box set will be available digitally for streaming and download, marking the soundtrack’s digital debut, in both standard and hi-res audio. Pre-order for all configurations is available now.

Tom L's picture

The music is probably better than the movie itself because Frank ran out of money and couldn't finish it as planned.
It would be GREAT if someone would release the movie on DVD or Blu Ray in the correct aspect ratio with good sound, but as I understand it the film was originally on United Artists but is now owned by MGM & 20th Century Fox and the Zappa family has been unable to reclaim it.

Ipsofacto's picture

Back in the 70’s it was playing on the big screen in New Your City, went and saw it had its limited release in a small art house theater. Awesome to see it appeared to be video not filmed but transferred from video, blow it up on a two hundred inchs on a theater screen and you could see the scan lines but I remember it was very colorful and trippy and the music was spectacular as anything Zappa ever did.

Anton D's picture

200 Motels is the worst film of all time, and I love Zappa.

I’m in to try this release out for the music and see how it goes.

Michael Fremer's picture
Neil's "Journey Through the Past"? That was pretty bad...
timorous's picture

I still have the original 1971 UA vinyl double LP. It has the booklet and the full-size poster as well. I think it's in very good condition.

How much do you think this is actually worth? I'd be happy to sell it...

I never liked it much, and the movie is pretty bad, really. I saw it in a theater at the time, and you could easily see the video scan lines that they tried to mask out, using whatever the technology was then.

Tom L's picture

It might be worth $20 or so.

dial's picture

Issue a soundtrack album (on 6 cd's !!) without the movie itself uh it's weird. Well I saw it last century it's like sextette difficult to watch (but for other reasons).
Original disc in mint condition is worth 100$ I think.

Tom L's picture

shows a mint one going for $88 + shipping. No takers. Timorous said his is "very good" and there are a whole bunch of VG+ with booklet and poster for $19.99.

jeffrosen's picture

I rana movie theater from the late 70's through 2004 and we tried to book the film. I was told by UA that it was unavailable due to a dispur with Murakami, the animation company. Do not know if that was ever cleared. UA now goes by the MGM name, though bulk of their titles are UA films.

dial's picture

To Tom L : thanks for your reply. Concerning US originals only : there's a SS for 130 $, I found one without poster for 82 (but only VG+ cover ?!). That said I only use Discogs with american dealers who really sent the goods and so I found for my friend (a big fan of US pressings) or me several rarities.

Tom L's picture

I think we're lookin at the same thing.
The only "mint" copy with booklet and poster is $129.99+shipping.
There's a "mint" for $80+shipping, but it has a "Very Good+" sleeve and no poster.

dial's picture

Thanx for reply, so if it's really mint with poster, 100 could be OK.

xtcfan80's picture

200 Motels is a terrible movie...but one of my top 5 Zappa albums...I remember my Dad had a large 200 Motels poster in one of his hippie pads back in the 1970s...