DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Frank Zappa – A Token of His Extreme (1974/2013)

Though he was never on drugs, Zappa is having himself a ball.

Published on June 4, 2013

Frank Zappa – A Token of His Extreme – Concert composed, conducted, performed and produced by Frank Zappa (1974/2013)

TV Special produced & edited by Zappa
Animation bits by Bruce Bickford
Performers: Zappa, Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson
Program: The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat, Montana, Earl of Duke, Florentine Pogen, Stink-Foot, Pygmy Twylyte, Room Service, Inca Roads, Oh No/Son of Orange County, More Trouble Every Day, A Token of my Extreme
Studio: Zappa Family Trust/ Eagle Vision EV306159
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: English PCM Stereo
Extras: Frank’s appearance on the (other) Mike Douglas Show – 1976, Covers of all his albums, others
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: ****

This early TV special featuring a concert video by Zappa and his crew of the moment would probably appeal most to fans of the very loose/unexpected/heavily satirical/standards-threatening Zappa, but I found both the rather (for him) straight-ahead TV talk show interview as well as the wild clay animation bits by Bruce Bickford which were edited into the concert quite fascinating. In the TV interview Zappa states that he put together his film with his own money and time, and that although it was steadfastly rejected by American TV, it had been a big success in France and Switzerland. He also says “It’s probably one of the finest pieces of video work that any human being has ever done. I did it myself.”  Uh…right.  The title of the special is a good indication of what you’re going to get.

Zappa stands to the right in the concert doing his odd vocals and playing the guitar. (By the way, he toned his guitar style way down for the talk show appearance and his solo there is fantastic.) During the TV interview he reveals that for relaxation he likes to listen to Webern, while the other two guests (Jimmy Walker and Kenny Rogers) listen to Joni Mitchell and The Swingle Singers’ Bach.  His lyrics are extremely tongue-in-cheek; I particularly liked the one about moving to Montana and raising dental floss.  Hopping all over the stage is his other wild vocalist, Napoleon Murphy Brock, who sure works up a sweat. His percussionist, in her bra top, seems to be having a great time banging on the various percussion instruments (including marimba) around her. The animation is cut in and out of the concert here and there, plus there are a lot of eventually annoying flash frames and very rapid cuts. It is often somewhat out of focus and loose, but some of the animation is truly imaginative and worth seeing. It appears to have originally had a story line of some sort, which is lost in the quick cutting into the concert. In the accompanying booklet you get to see Zappa in a black suit with a bow tie and short hair, evidently for a special occasion.

This was only available previously on a much more expensive German import DVD, so Zappa fans will love being able to get this one for about $10. To others it’s either great fun or completely disgusting. Though he was never on drugs, Zappa is having himself a ball. What do you expect? It’s Frank Zappa.

—John Henry




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