The producers of Who the F*@% Is Frank Zappa, a documentary currently in production about the iconoclastic rock composer, have been putting out previously unseen clips from the Zappa Vault in an effort to bring attention to a Kickstarter campaign that would fund the film. Premiering here today is never-before-released candid video of Zappa arriving at San Francisco Airport in 1980 and grinning as he becomes visibly overcome by the U.S. Navy Band, which greets him by playing his song “Joe’s Garage.”
“I’ve been looking at a lot of previously unknown or little-seen archival of Frank, and this one was particularly powerful to me for two reasons,” the documentary’s director, Alex Winter, tells Rolling Stone. “The first is that Frank was so rarely himself in public. He was a master showman, performer, orator, wit, political pundit, etc. In this clip, Frank is genuinely and profoundly moved by the band’s performance of his music, and so we get to see him unprepared and just being himself.
“The other reason I love this piece is to watch it from the other side: the joy, concern, nervousness and reverence of these musicians, doing a fantastic job of playing a difficult piece for the notoriously discerning composer,” he continues. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the power of music. And Frank’s wonderful music in particular.”
Zappa himself liked the clip so much that he duplicated the master onto his own tapes so he could preserve it.
The film, as it premieres here, was captured on a monitor in the Zappa Vault, a 200 Motels poster to its left. In addition to funding the film, Winter and his fellow filmmakers are raising money to help preserve the Zappa family’s archive of recordings, artwork, family photos, personal letters, “old beer” and other iconography. Rewards range from T-shirts to an “actual road case of Frank Zappa’s stuff.” They’re also offering add-on rewards, which include guitar picks, cassettes, songbooks and Zappa’s “actual fucking house.” Pledges at any level allow donors to view clips like the one above, including video of Zappa playing with Eric Clapton, Zappa sharing his thoughts on Ronald Reagan and the PMRC, and performances of “Zoot Allures” and “Titties ‘N Beer,” among others.
Rolling Stone spoke with Zappa’s widow Gail, son Ahmet and filmmaker Winter about the film last summer, month’s before Gail’s death. When asked why she wanted this film made and had granted unprecedented access to the director, she had an acerbic answer at the ready. “If I was gonna have to do this myself, I would want the question answered: ‘Why the fuck would anyone want to be a composer?'” Gail said. “I know the answer to that, because I lived it. … And I want to give the finger to all the ‘experts’ out there.”