1940-64

Madcap Puppets

c. 1953
KSBW, Salinas, CA

Bill Dorman, "FZ's puppet shows," alt.fan.frank-zappa, August 21, 2013

In the early 1950s, I'm not certain of the exact year but I suspect it was 1953, Frank was a student at Robert H. Down school on Pine St. In Pacific Grove, CA. He along with myself and [Jett Spencer] had a puppet show called "Madcap Puppets." [Jett's] father built the stage. Even then Frank was a superb promoter. He got us booked on to a children's show on live TV in Salinas, arranged to have us perform on stage during Saturday afternoon intermissions at the Pacific Grove Theater, and as a stage act at the Monterey County Fair in Monterey. [...] The [Grove Theater] manager had an early 8mm camera and he did film us but I don't recall his showing the films publicly. I don't remember the name of the tv kid's show on which we appeared, but the station was KSBW Ch 8, Salinas, CA. It has the same call letters today.

 

TV Talent Show

c. 1954

Nelson [Scherer], "Claremont High School Class Of 1958 Reunion Banquet Address," June 7, 2008

SOME OF MY MEMORIES OF THE FIFTIES IN CLAREMONT: (My 1% memories)

[...] 16. Frank Zappa, Johnny Peek and I competing in the afternoon T.V. talent show (hand puppets and Spike Jones' rendition of "Chloe")

David Walley, No Commercial Potential, 1996, p. 102

[Lowell George had] met Frank many years before on the Al Jarvis Amateur Hour. Frank presented a puppet show and five-year-old Lowell played harmonica with his brother. Both lost out to a girl tap dancer.

Charles Ulrich, December 4, 2013

[Nelson Scherer] said the television show was on channel 9 [KHJ-TV] or 11 [KTTV], every weekday around 3:30 or 4 pm. He thinks they filmed at Paramount Studios [5555 Melrose Ave.] in Hollywood. He didn't remember the hosts.

[...] Scherer didn't remember much about the other contestants, not having paid much attention to them. The puppet show came in second place. The winner was a girl who sang or danced. That's consistent with Walley's "girl tap dancer" (p. 102). Scherer didn't remember the George brothers (Lowell on harmonica, Hampton presumably on guitar).

[...] The puppet show to Spike Jones's Chloe was their encore. They also used other songs from the same Spike Jones album, but he didn't remember which ones.

Charles Ulrich, December 20, 2013

I talked with Jonathan Peek on Tuesday. He told me he was "the Fran" of the Claremont puppet group, standing in front of the stage, talking to the puppets operated by FZ and Nelson Scherer.

He didn't remember the host of the TV show, but he thought the title was Make Believe Ballroom. Sure enough, Al Jarvis used that title on both radio and television.

He agreed with Nelson Scherer that the show was on weekdays around 4pm. He remembered it as channel 11, which is one of the two channels that Nelson Scherer said—but not one that Al Jarvis is known to have worked at.

He didn't remember any of the other contestants.

"Motion"

c. 1956

Barry Miles, Zappa—A Biography, 2004, p. 35

In 1956, shortly after arriving in Lancaster, [FZ] began his first experiments with film.

His father owned an 8mm Kodak wind-up cine-camera. Zappa: "For my first film I tied a piece of clothes line to the view-finder, turned on the camera and swung it around until the spring ran out. I then re-shot the same roll of film several times. Eventually I shot and edited on a short piece of film for the title 'Motion'."

FZ, interviewed by Patrick and Barbara Salvo, Melody Maker, January 5, 1974

I've been writing since about 1955-'56, when I started writing stories which were either science fiction or pachuco-type humour. And then I started doing 8mm films and experimental stuff like exposing the roll five times, doing opticals inside the camera.

 

"Mixed Media Presentation"

c. 1956-57
Antelope Valley High School, Lancaster, CA
10 min.

David Walley, No Commercial Potential, 1996, p. 22

While at Antelope Valley High, because of his special "problems," Frank was enrolled in an art class. There he put together a mixed media presentation. He took a ten-minute piece of film, wiped the emulsion clean and painted each frame individually. Afterwards he keyed it to some classical music.

Karla Tipton, "Zappa Talks Frankly About Art, Politics," Antelope Valley Press, August 11, 1989

At the [Antelope Valley] high school, one of his art teachers (possibly Amy Heydorn; he wasn't sure), enthusiastically supported one particular project of Zappa's: "It was an abstract film that was done by painting on the film," he said. "Imagine how long it would take actually painting a movie."

Clear film leader wasn't available back then, so they gave me a dental hygiene movie called 'Judy's Smile,' and they let me dip it in nitric acid to take the emulsion off". So that's what I did. I soaked this dental hygiene movie in nitric acid and all the emulsion wouldn't come off. There were still clumps of flotsam and jetsam. And when it dried out, I just left it on there. Then I scratched patterns on it and used an airbrush on it, colored dye. nail polish ...

"One of my art teachers was so impressed with the project, she called Disney studios without my knowledge. We took my home movie down there and had a screening at Disney," recalled Zappa.

"They said, 'Nice little boy. Thank you very much for bringing your movie here.'" Because of the punishment "Judy's Smile" received, a very little bit of the original still remains intact: "Over the years, it eventually fell apart," said Zappa. "There's only a few seconds left."

Its essence, however, has been preserved forever in his home video collection.

FZ's letter to Edgard Varèse, August, 1957

I paint in oils and watercolor and last year produced a cartoon film in school by painting color directly onto a 250 foot reel of cleared 16 mm movie film. I painted on the color in such a way that I managed to closely, but not completely, synchronize their movements to your "DENSITY 21.5" and the second "movement" of "OCTANDRE". It brought about some amazing results from the audience and my counselors in the office allowed me to make a trip I had planned to Walt Disney studios with the film.

Nothing ever came of my trip, but when I got back to school I was informed I had a chance to be skipped from the Junior year in high school to the Freshman year at the junior college which adjoined the school as an experiment.

 

Experimental Films

c. 1958

FZ, interviewed by Ian Pollock, Time Out, December 17-23, 1971

Was the only stuff you did before 'Uncle Meat' home movies?

I started in 1958 with home movies.

Did you use to take a camera round everywhere and just shoot everybody and the group? . . . .

Yeah, I'd take one roll of film and shoot it six times and have it come out with the weirdest montages you ever saw! I love to edit. I like to edit tape and I like to edit film, and when I'm at home, if I've got no immediate project that I'm working on I'll just put 16mm film on a rack and cut it up just because I like to see things turn into other things, and the same way with sound. Just stick things together and then you hear the relationship when it goes by—it's like Christmas every time you hear another one of those edits going by.

Gerald Fialka, December, 1980

Ever since Zappa began shooting Regular-8 in 1958, he has been actively exploring visual media. Using his father's movie camera, young Zappa would run around the backyard like a maniac, spinning in circles. The colorful swirling image that resulted on film was further altered with ink, nail polish and air brushing.

The Omens Footage

Unknown place and date
B&W

Appears in:

Motorhead & The Bug Terry Wimberly? & Motorhead

On this footage we can see James 'Motorhead' Sherwood dancing The Bug. The group has matching suits, and is formed at least by a singer, a pianist (probably Terry Wimberly), a guitarist, a tenor sax, and a baritone sax (Motorhead). The band is probably The Omens.

BWS—The Omens The Bug A Pioneer Of Future Music Part 1

Mitch Howard, "Frank Zappa Versus The Incredible Hulk," International Times, June 13-25, 1969

He showed eighteen minutes of his unfinished film Burnt Weeny Sandwich, [...] which featured short shots of [...] Motorhead having a fit on stage some eight years ago.

 

More Experimental Films

c. May, 1962

Don Preston (quoted on Necessity is . . . )

I was having these open free sessions with Bunk Gardner, where we would improvise to films that I would get out of the library. I invited Zappa to come and play, so we jammed for a while. Zappa liked a lot of it and was actually in the process of starting to make films himself, so we would use some of his films to improvise on.

Bob Desnoyers (quoted on Splat's Zappapage)

Dwight [Bement] & I visited FZ's house in Cucamonga a couple of times that I remember. That was before God was born. He (FZ) had shot up some film of flashing neon signs totally out of focus. He showed the film coordinated with music. Fascinating to say the least.

 

The World's Greatest Sinner

June, 1962
82 min.
B&W, 35mm

FZ's 8mm Home Movies

Filmed c. 1959-1963

Appears in:
Including:

The Late Show G-Spot Tornado

Patrick Neve:

One of the first things you see in this film [Video From Hell] is the music video for "G-Spot Tornado." I am personally convinced that the accompanying visuals to this piece are the 8mm films that Frank showed during his Mount St. Mary's College concert in 1963. Check this from the liner notes to the Lost Episodes:

"The program included a piece called "Opus 5," aleatoric works that required some improvisation, a piece for orchestra and taped electronic music, with accompanying visuals in the form of FZ's own experimental 8mm films (Motorhead Sherwood described one such film depicting the Los Angeles County Fair carnival, double exposed with passing telephone poles)."

Well, that's exactly what's shown in the video accompanying "G-Spot Tornado"! For a real kick, turn the sound down and listen instead to "Opus 5" from the Mount St. Mary's tape.

Jim Sherwood, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 57

We would invite the Harley groups over [to Studio Z] and Frank would show a lot of the videos that we were doing. It was actually 16mm movies. And we were playing the soundtracks that Frank made. We were trying to get their reaction. Frank was actually writing a whole bunch of material that he was going to take to the psych department at the College there.

[...] It was just weird stuff that Frank actually used in Uncle Meat. (He'd film us) driving up the highway and you'd see all the telephone poles going by and there was an overlay of a fair in the background with a Ferris wheel going around and lights flashing. It was just a lot of overlay stuff that Frank was playing around with.

 

FZ's 8mm Home Movies Some More

Filmed c. 1959-1963

Peaches En Regalia Peaches En Regalia

Appears in:

 

Early Recording Studio Footage

Unknown place and date (probably Pal Recording Studio, c. 1962-63)

This seems to be filmed at Pal Recording Studio, c. 1963. We can see FZ with a hat and his Fender Jazzmaster, Ronnie Williams also playing guitar, a singer which resembles a short-haired Ray Collins, another singer, another guitarist (probably Rex Jakabosky), sax player Tony Rodriquenz, and trombonist Ron Myers.

A Pioneer Of Future Music Part 2

Parts appears in:
Also:

FZ in the studio At The Studio At The Studio

VPRO 2000 14:07

Dr. William M. "Rocky" Rodriquenz (May 11, 2010)

Unnamed saxophone player next to trombonist [is] my cousin, Tony Rodriquenz.

Charles Ulrich, April 16, 2015

Pete Christlieb identified the trombonist in the photo as Ron Myers (who both he and Foster remember playing on the Run Home Slow soundtrack).

 

The Steve Allen Show

March 14, 1963 (first aired on March 27, 1963)
ABC Channel 5
17 min. B&W

A Pioneer Of Future Music Part 2

Visual Music—Mount St. Mary's College

May 19, 1963

FZ, Mount St. Mary's College, May 19, 1963

The film was made partly by photographing images. The way you do it is you take the camera—I did this with a little 8mm Brownie movie camera. I went running around my back yard like a maniac, holding the camera like this. And I turned it on and just went spinning around like this. And the spring in my camera runs slower than it should; it speeds up the images anyway. If you run the camera around in circles like that, you get everything just swirling by, so you get all these colors, and you don't really get images out of what you're doing. You just get an action, kind of, from what you shoot.

This was taken and blown up to 16mm in a lab. And by doing that you add a lot of grain to the picture, and you also lose some of your color contrast.

Then I took some 16mm leader. And leader is this stuff like this. Sometimes it's white. And you dip it in a hypo solution and it becomes clear. And this still has emulsion on it, which I scraped and mixed with different colors of ink, and nail polish, and anything I could get my hands on to make these colors on there. Some of it was done with a brush, some with pen, some with pieces of wood, some with an airbrush. And I had no idea what it was gonna look like while I was doing it, because when you get something this big when you're painting it on the film, it bears really very little relation to what it's gonna look like when it's blown up that large onto the screen. You can't really tell what your action is gonna be. So the whole thing, the film was more or less improvised.

And it was put together in a random fashion, just trying to keep the most interesting parts of what I had shot and what I had painted. And the only thing that I cut out of this is certain dead spots. And the black leader, the quiet passages that were in the film were inserted there as spacers to tone down the group while they were performing this. They were in there for a purpose. That's not actual film that was wasted.

 

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This dog last modified: 2017-08-23