Uncle Meat

Published: September 15, 1987
Honker Home Video
100 min.

Main plot footage filmed at:
Also includes footage from:
The music heard:

 

Cast & Crew

Written, produced, directed and music composed by Frank Zappa
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler

Additional film by:
Frank Zappa
Cal Schenkel
Hermann Jauk
Ed Seeman
Ray Favata
Tom Mangrevede
Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood

Video camera: Thomas Nordegg
Video editors: Raymond Bush & Booey Kober
Film editor: Maria DiGiovanni
Associate producer: Jill Silverthorne

The Cast:

Phyllis Altenhaus as herself and also sometimes as Sheba Flieschman
Don Preston as himself (a.k.a. Dom DeWilde) and also sometimes as Biff Debris but most frequently as Uncle Meat
Frank Zappa as the imaginary director

Carl Zappa Young Minnesota Tishman
Aynsley Dunbar Biff Junior
Ray Collins Bill Yurds
Meredith Monk Red Face Girl
Massimo Bassoli Adult Minnesota Tishman
C. Mercedes Lewis Girl Who Was A Sofa
Francesca Fisher The Countess
Billy Mundi Rollo
Stumuk Elderly Biff Debris

As Themselves:
Haskell Wexler
The Guy From Alabama
Motorhead Sherwood
Bunk Gardner
Arthur Dyer Tripp III
Ian Underwood
Members of the BBC Orchestra
Jimmy Carl Black
Roy Estrada
Manfred Lerch
Fritz Rau
Tom Wilson
Sal Lombardo
Annie Zannas
Cal Schenkel
Dick Kunc
Lowell George
Buzz Gardner
Dick Barber
Miss Lucy
Janet Neville-Ferguson
Rodney Bingenheimer
The Egg Lady
Linda Ronstadt

And also (uncredited):
Gail Zappa
Jimi Hendrix

Uncle Meat

Andrew Greenaway, "Don Interrupts"—Interview With Don Preston, The Idiot Bastard, February 18, 2001

IB: Can you tell me how the pseudonyms 'Dom DeWild' and 'Biff Debris' came about?

DP: My ex-wife's name was DeWild before we married, and I used it on occasion. Biff Debris was a product of Frank used in the movie Uncle Meat which was supposed to be loosely based on the movie John And Mary with Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow.

 

Release Info

Barfko-Swill/MPI #MP 4002 (VHS)
Video For Nations VFN 11 (VHS)

Cover Art

Video (English VFN 11) was packaged with Honker "No-D" glasses (source: Kier)

Release date

Copyright

PA-682-902
Title: Uncle Meat : the Mothers of Invention movie / produced and directed by Frank Zappa.
Description: Videocassette ; 1/2 in.
Note: Music video.
Claimant: Zappa Family Trust
Created: 1987
Published: 15Sep87

[...]

VA-567-772
Title: Frank Zappa presents Uncle Meat—the Mothers of Invention movie.
Description: Video sleeve.
Claimant: acHonker Home Video (employer for hire)
Created: 1988
Published: 15Jan88

Greg Russo, Cosmik Debris: The Collected History And Improvisations Of Frank Zappa (The Son Of Revised), 2003, p. 336

Uncle Meat
MPI MP 4002
01/31/1989

FZ, interviewed by Bill Camarata, Scene, March, 1988

UNCLE MEAT (a Mothers Of Invention film that has been 20 years in the making) is just about to be released. What's holding that up right now is that Cal Schenkel is finishing the painting that's going to be used for the cover of the jacket.

 


The Story Of The Movie

Pauline Butcher, Freak Out!—My Life With Frank Zappa, 2011, p. 276

In March 1970, Frank invited a whole crowd of us to Todd-AO, a post-production facility, to see the latest version of his film, Uncle Meat, mostly stuff in the Vienna Woods and the Festival Hall. To tie it all together, he needed to interview each of the Mothers, but there lay the nub: the Mothers of Invention no longer existed.

[...] Frank called the band together a second time and once again, they herded into the basement. If Frank noticed the hostility which hung thick and heavy in the room, he chose to ignore it.

"What I propose to do," he told them, bringing his coffee to the rocking chair, "is interview each of you in turn. Then I'll use those interviews to connect the various parts of the film we already have."

"How much do we get paid?" Jimmy Carl Black demanded to know.

"You don't," Frank said, "No one's getting paid. It's already cost me twelve thousand dollars before we start."

The general response was along the lines of, "Well, fuck that."

"You'll get food and expenses," Frank said, trying for a compromise.

Jim, Bunk, Roy and Art sprang up, voices clashing, clearly furious that Frank was using them yet again just so he could swell his ever-growing fortune. Only Don Preston, Motorhead and Ray Collins remained and agreed to take part.

So the script of Uncle Meat had to be quickly rewritten and Frank dictated it over my shoulder directly into the typewriter. He'd already hired lights and aquipment and bought film. The action began on 30 March in Frank's basement.

Haskell Wexler, a cinematographer who'd won an Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, had offered five days of services—free. He'd made a film, Medium Cool, in 1968, a documentary for which he'd used Frank's songs "Oh No" and "Who Needs the Police Corps?" on the soundtrack. [...]

Aynsley Dunbar arrived from London to add teen appeal to Frank's new line-up. A devilishly handsome, Jack-the-lad rock'n'roll drummer, he would stay at Frank's house for ten months.

"Frank Zappa Speaks," Hundred Flowers, July 10, 1970

HF: As we understand it, your movie, "Uncle Meat," has gone through a lot of evolving.

Z: Yeah, and as soon as I can get some money we can get it done. Now it's about some little girl getting hot over Mike [Don] Preston.

HF: With old Mothers, won't it be out of date?

Z: No. Originally it was about all freaks in America being led away to concentration camps and getting their heads shaved. Including the Mothers. The head fascist was some fat headed computer-brained Colonel Sanders who sat in his office shooting chickens, all the while riding in the glove compartment of a Chicken Little truck.

HF: Why didn't you do it?

Z: Because this mustache is six years old and I didn't want to cut it. It's not over yet though. We'll see.

FZ interviewed by Jay Ruby (c. May 9, 1970), Jazz & Pop, August, 1970

So what I'm doing now is I'm working on a movie, because in between rehearsing this group of Mothers that's playing at the Fillmore and getting this stuff ready for the Philharmonic, I've been in the editing room working on Uncle Meat all this time. [...] We were shuffling around, trying to make a deal just to get any money to finish the film off. So we were lucky. We got a small amount of money to do this job. Then we got luckier and Haskell Wexler shot for us for a week for free.

To provide us with some continuity. It turns out that the continuity that he was supposed to shoot would have been interviews with all the members of the Mothers, past, present, and future, and so on and so forth, and documentary-type stuff that will help to explain the mythology of, the validity of, or even the existence of us and this music. But we had a business meeting with the Mothers, just prior to that week of shooting, and there was a whole bunch of arguments and bullshit and hysteria. Four of the guys decided they wanted to have nothing whatsoever to do with any of the projects. That radically changed my plans for that week's shooting, which I had all blocked out. So two days before we were supposed to go—we had already hired the crew and had the lights and the stock bought and all that shit—to the tune of about maybe $12,000 for the week. Even though Haskell was free, the stuff that goes with him costs you some money. So I said, "Oh, what am I going to do here?" I made up a chart, which is really quite intriguing, but it's so involved—I've already cut about a half an hour of the film. We had a screening of it for the money people, just before we came out here. They were very distressed. They said, "That's not the movie that you told us you were going to make." And one of the other guys says, "Why, that's horrible. It's so dull." It's not going to be very easy to please those guys.

The story line that came out revolves around Don Preston, who is always turning into a monster; Phyllis [Altenhaus], who used to be Tom Wilson's secretary at MGM, who is now my editor's assistant on the film—who falls in love with the monster because she sees him on the screen with a machine everyday; Aynsley Dunbar, who likes to get beaten with toilet brushes, and wears a vibrator on a strap as part of his band uniform; and Motorhead and Calvin who have formed a group which consists of a guitar that doesn't play and cymbals. I had the cymbals plugged with a pair of pliers, Motorhead has wings and a hat and Calvin has a tin reflector off of a photographer's bulb that he wears for a thing. They like to play at the Hollywood Ranch Market in the kitchen utensil department; Tom Wilson, who's running for President in 1972, and Suzy Creamcheese, who wants to be the First Lady. Those are the characters in the story. Now the way the story unfolds so far—because there's still plenty of things that can happen—sometimes you see me directing the people and telling them what to say, so there's no differentiation between what the story is, who the people are, what they're pretending to be and what they really are, or what they're trying to make you think the whole thing is. You know, it's all laid out there in such a way that each one of the supposed dramatic sequences is prefaced by either a rehearsal or a verbal explanation of what the action is. I say, "We're going to do this. You just watch what happens." And then we do it. After it's been done, we say, "We did that. Then we're going to do this"—you know? The continuity is really funny because there's no time—it's all happening all at once, even though the events took place over a period of, let's say, from now back five years, plus into 1972. That's the timespan covered by the film, but it's all condensed into ninety minutes, which is all happening simultaneously. I can see why those guys who put up the money wouldn't get into it.

It's going to be a theatrical release. It's designed as a Cinemascope, four-track stereo feature film. [The old Mothers Footage is] integrated in there too, because—that's why I say it covers a timespan from now to five years back. All those things help to explain the phenomenon of Don Preston turning into a monster. [...] He sticks his tongue—we call it "transforming"—he sticks his tongue on the side of his face, squints one eye, the other one pops open, his face blows out like that and he hunches his shoulder. It's just like the Phantom of the Opera. He goes zooot and there he is. He does it every place—airports, you know, out in the street. Don is transformed, and he goes like this—and people go "Oooh!" When we were on the road before, it got to be a fad to see whether or not everybody could learn how to transform. He does it the best, because he had a lot of practice. Using that as one of the thematic elements of a film—the idea that somebody turns into a monster and the reasons why he does it—it changes throughout the film. Mostly he turns into a monster whenever he hears the word "royalties."

[...] The other funny thing about the movie is the constant reference to the MGM royalties. It's so funny, because Phyllis used to be a secretary at MGM and Tom Wilson used to be a producer at MGM. Another one of the themes in the film is a rubber chicken. We describe events as we're using a chicken to measure it. At one point we're measuring the MGM royalties with a chicken. Ray Collins does that. He comes up with a royalty statement which consists of a certain amount of foam which is expelled from the blowhole of the rubber chicken. He says, "Yes, I think we have some royalties coming now." It's very avant-garde.

[...] It has a completion date of July 1, with the idea of a release as soon as you can talk somebody into sticking it in a theatre, I guess. Other people who have seen that first screening think that it's going to be too hard to get it into a theatre. They think the distributors are probably of the same mentality as the people who put up the money.

[...] I buy a block of [studio] time and I go in with a certain amount of prepared material. Then I always allow for accidents, ideas, craziness, spontaneous whatever, and I'm willing to pay for that extra studio time just to get those things down on tape. Like an improvised dialogue between Aynsley Dunbar and Phyllis [Altenhaus], happened one night in the studio—where he's trying to get her to beat him with some kind of device in the studio. They're just discussing it. Because I took the time to record that, it gave me one of the elements for the plot in the film. Also I came up with a funny tape.

[...] The manner in which the film is being assembled is being put together using the same intellectual processes I would use to put together a piece of music; the same mechanism, the same ordering system. So it's a piece of music. It just so happens that it makes use of pictures and other stuff—sound effects, talking.

[...] I did animation for it. This kind of animation—single frame moving—the title sequence consists of two white gloves that crawl across my desk, fuck each other and appear later on the shelf in the bathroom. That's the opening. That's the first one you see. What you see first is the film that came out of my camera, which is shooting the glove—which cuts to Haskell shooting me shooting the gloves in the bathroom. The sound that's heard over the picture is coming out of my camera, which is taking place in another area, it's the ringing echo of this bathroom and the noise that goes like that little motor on the camera as it shoots one frame. It's really strange.

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

What happened to 'Uncle Meat'?

It's still in my basement—fifty minutes rough cut of it—it's not completely shot yet. It has some music in it already and some animation has been done for it—I did it—it's like miniatures.

Richard Williams, "Zappa: Past Flops And Future Shocks," Melody Maker, August 25, 1973

Frank also divulged that he's working on another movie—"but it's too far in the future for me to start promoting it now."

He would say, however, that it was a "monster movie"—including perversion, hamburgers, a children's belt with little yellow holes, and dry ice—"any movie that's any good has dry ice in it. I'm cutting it now—most of it was actually shot in 1970, before 200 Motels."

FZ on Sounds (Australian TV, 1983)

I'm finishing a movie that I started 14 years ago. [...] This movie was begun before we did 200 Motels. [...] I left it alone for a number of years because the material itself was tied up on a lawsuit and it was locked up in a vault under the control of another person. And when the lawsuit was resolved I got all the material back and decided I would finish it off.

FZ, interviewed by Alain Chauvat, Mother People #33, 1986

Uncle Meat is incomplete. Fifty minutes of it are edited, but I don't have enough money to finish it.

Notes & Comments

From: Richard Fox

A movie started in 67 with the original Mothers of Invention. Finished in 88 or 89 and released on videotape. The movie has basically 2 parts to it. One is based on the live concert footage of the Mothers plus a small orchestra in the London Festival Hall in 68. This footage is based on the story of members of the band quitting to start their own band either because they want a band of all disciplined music or they want to escape from under Zappa's shadow and play real rock and roll. The remainder of the movie is made up of Dom DeWild (Don Preston) pretending to be a Jeckyl and Hyde sort. Really wierd. There are also some videos of the band for the songs Mr. Green Genes and Holiday in Berlin (from Burnt Weenie Sandwich). The concert footage is good and the videos are fun, but the rest is just plain bizzare.

From: John Searcy

Plot Summary for Uncle Meat (1987)

Uncle Meat, who sometimes goes under the guises of Don Preston and Biff Debris, is an eccentric character who believs in musical progress and enjoys drinking fuming beakers and transforming into a monster. After seeing footage of him (as Don) transforming in this way while fighting for musical progress, film editor Phyllis Altenhaus meets him in person and falls in love. Later the two meet again at a pool hall under the guises of Biff Debris and Sheba Flieshman and they share a kinky shower scene together where they indulge each other's fetishes of clothes and hamburgers and declare their mutual love. Meanwhile, Uncle Meat and his band are secretly working on a hit single (made up of household items carefully arranged on a cloth) which they hope will change the world for the better by improving everyone's karma. However, no matter what he does, he can't seem to compose a hit and eventually, after he and Sheba have been married for over twelve years, his obsession with composing a single drives her to the brink and Uncle Meat must choose between his music and the woman he loves.

Don Preston on Ein Leben als Extravaganza:

Actually that movie was a parody of a movie that was made back at that time, called John And Mary, with Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow. And I was Dustin Hoffman, and that girl was Mia Farrow.

Additional informants to this section: Kristian Kier

UNCLE MEAT REVISED BUDGET

100 EDITING EQUIPMENT

101 1 moviola 650.00
102 1 double headed moviola 270.70
103 3 moviescope viewers 167.00
104 3 splicers 200.00
105 3 syncranizers 332.00
106 3 large trim bins 110.00
107 1 kem 6900.00
108 purchases: lamps, split reels, etc. 1800.00
subtotal 10429.70
contingency 300.00
total 10729.70


200 EDITING
201 editing salaries 8335.00
202 technical assistanc 1000.00
203 production salaries (Suz. & Phyliss) 7200.00
204 editing room rental 1535.00
205 payroll taxes 1712.00
total 19782.00


300 SOUND
301 transfer 5 hrs. sound from tape
master to 35 mag. master (include
mixdown from 12 to 4) 7100.00
302 transfer 5 hrs. mag. master(35) to 16mag. 400.00
303 mix-4 track stereo 8000.00
304 transfer sound effects 400.00
305 dubdown 908.00
306 transfer 35 mag. to 35 optical 609.00
contingencies 2000.00
19417.00


400 Sub CONTRACTED WORK

401 optical and titles 7500.00
402 optical stock process printing 3000.00
403 negative cutter 4000.00
404 projection time 500.00
total 15000.00

500 LABORATORY

501 workprinting & coding 20200.00
502 4180 ft. FAP 16 mmm. 800.00 ? 12,000 (8000)
total 21000.00


600 MUSIC RELEASES 7000.00

700 COST TO BLOW UP AN D FAP WITH STEREO

701 25 min.-2,500 double image 3000.00
702 30 min.-3,000 single image 3000.00
703 30 min.-3,000 original image 900.00
704 5 min.-500 ft. 16 mm. to 35 480.00
705 additional blow up 5000.00
706 mag. stripping 4 tracks 158.00
707 transfer 194.00
708 contingency 668.00
total 13400.00

800 SHOOTING FOOTAGE

801 original cost 16400.00 spent need (4700)
802 daily 990.00 2000 1000
total 17390.00

900 SHOOTING RENTAL

901 2-35 mm. rentals 920.00
902 sound 570.00
903 lights 510.00
total 2000.00

1000 SOUND TRANSFER (plane 2000.00
tickets)

1100 cameraman
1101 extra crew and actors 4000.00
Sherwood Preston (4000)
1200 stock footage 5000.00 500 500

1300 phone serv. and misc. 1239.00

 

UNCLE MEAT REVISED BUDGET RECAP

100 EDITING EQUIPMENT

101 1 moviola 650.00
102 1 double headed moviola 270.70
103 3 moviescope viewers 167.00
104 3 splicers 200.00
105 3 syncranizers 332.00
106 3 large trim bins 110.00
107 1 kem 6900.00
108 purchases: lamps, split reels, etc. 1800.00
subtotal 10429.70
contingency 300.00
total 10729.70


200 EDITING
201 editing salaries 8335.00
202 technical assistanc 1000.00
203 production salaries (Suz. & Phyliss) 7200.00
204 editing room rental 1535.00
205 payroll taxes 1712.00
total 19782.00


300 SOUND
301 transfer 5 hrs. sound from tape
master to 35 mag. master (include
mixdown from 12 to 4) 7100.00
302 transfer 5 hrs. mag. master(35) to 16mag. 400.00
303 mix-4 track stereo 8000.00
304 transfer sound effects 400.00
305 dubdown 908.00
306 transfer 35 mag. to 35 optical 609.00
contingencies 2000.00
19417.00


400 Sub CONTRACTED WORK

401 optical and titles 7500.00
402 optical stock process printing 3000.00
403 negative cutter 4000.00
404 projection time 500.00
total 15000.00

500 LABORATORY

501 workprinting & coding 20200.00
502 4180 ft. FAP 16 mmm. 800.00 ? 12,000 (8000)
total 21000.00


600 MUSIC RELEASES 7000.00

700 COST TO BLOW UP AN D FAP WITH STEREO

701 25 min.-2,500 double image 3000.00
702 30 min.-3,000 single image 3000.00
703 30 min.-3,000 original image 900.00
704 5 min.-500 ft. 16 mm. to 35 480.00
705 additional blow up 5000.00
706 mag. stripping 4 tracks 158.00
707 transfer 194.00
708 contingency 668.00
total 13400.00

800 SHOOTING FOOTAGE

801 original cost 16400.00 spent need (4700)
802 daily 990.00 2000 1000
total 17390.00

900 SHOOTING RENTAL

901 2-35 mm. rentals 920.00
902 sound 570.00
903 lights 510.00
total 2000.00

1000 SOUND TRANSFER (plane 2000.00
tickets)

1100 cameraman
1101 extra crew and actors 4000.00
Sherwood Preston (4000)
1200 stock footage 5000.00 500 500

1300 phone serv. and misc. 1239.00

The Dub Room

Bootleg DVD

From: Big Bad Dad (March 15, 2008):

i was in ohio and in a little record store called the time traveler they had a big dvd section and i looked for some zappa and they had BOOTLEGS

There was a mothers live one and a few others but for $25 i bought the uncle meat movie on DVD

Very good quality video. Complete Movie w/BARFKO-SWILL DOCU-RAMA after credits but that dosn't play right after eight minutes

the cover looks like a scan of the video release streched to fit the dvd case

 

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This dog last modified: 2017-11-11