Baby Snakes

December 21, 1979
Victoria Theater, NYC, NY
165 min.

The music:

(From The Palladium, NYC, NY, October 28-31, 1977, except where indicated)


FZ—lead guitar, vocals
Adrian Belew—guitar, vocals
Peter Wolf—keyboards
Tommy Mars—keyboards, vocals
Ed Mann—percussion, vocals
Patrick O'Hearn—bass
Terry Bozzio—drums, vocals
Roy Estrada—vocals, gas mask


Photographed by:
Dick Pearce
Phil Parmet
Rob Leacock

Edited by:
Klaus Hundsbichler

Kerry McNabb
Joe Chiccarelli

Lighting by:
Coy Featherston

Art Direction:
John Williams

Bruce Bickford

Associate Producer:
Bennett Glotzer

Written, Produced, Directed & Music Composed by:
Frank Zappa


(in order of appearance playing themselves):

Frank Zappa
Adrian Belew
Tommy Mars
Terry Bozzio
Kerry McNabb
Ron Delsener
Bruce Bickford
Rob Leacock
Ed Mann
Warren Cuccurullo
Chris Martin
Klaus Hundsbichler
Roy Estrada
John Smothers
David Ditkowich
Bill Harrington
Patrick O'Hearn
Phil Parmet
Peter Wolf
Dick Pearce
Janet The Planet
Donna U Wanna
Phil Kaufman
Tex Abel
Dale Bozzio
Brian Rivera
Joey Psychotic



Stage Crew:
Alan Barclay
Bill Harrington
J.L. Housman
Paul Hof
Kenny Lyon
Davey Moire
Gregory Mulgrew
Thomas Nordegg
Leon Rodriguez
Alan Santos
Earl Charles
Earl Matthews
Tex Abel


The Premiere

December 21, 1979
Victoria Theater, NYC, NY

From IMDb

The film had particular trouble finding a distributor. Frank Zappa tried to interest Untied Artists, the company that released 200 Motels (1971). Fearing that they were about to be embroiled in the Heaven's Gate (1980) fiasco, they turned him down. Other studios followed in United Artists' footsteps, fearing that Zappa's trademark cinematic style had lost considerable appeal in post-'70s pop culture. Several European distributors told Zappa that there might be interest if it were cut from its original 168-minute running time. The film was cut to 90 minutes and still there were no takers. Even after Bruce Bickford (I)'s sequences won first prize at a French animated film competition, there was no interest. Eventually Zappa took it upon himself to distribute the film independently via his own Intercontinental Absurdities production company. The film ran 24 hours a day at the Victoria Theater in New York City and made a handsome profit.

From: Ben Watson

Billed as 'a movie about people who do stuff that is not normal', the film Baby Snakes was premiered on Dec 21 1979 at the Victoria Theater, New York. Although it received the Premier Grand prix for musical film in Paris in 1981, it was not a success and rarely shown.

From: Ebay seller "sdfgh88541"

When it was first released, it ran 24 hours a day and achieved box office gross receipts (on a theater to theater basis) which exceeded all other major studio releases in the metropolitan area.

From: Lewis Saul

It ran 24 hours a day at the Victoria Theatre around Christmas 1979.


Police yell, "come out with your hands up!"
Band plays music.
Clay people kissing turn into hamburgers.
Police yell, "come out with your hands up!"

From: Jeff

I saw the world premiere of Baby Snakes on Frank's birthday—Frank was in the lobby handing out slices of birthday cake shaped like a snake, a nice touch, and I think wearing a chef's hat. A few minutes later, Frank stood off to the side with a microphone and introduced the movie. From where I was sitting I could pretty much see him—and he seemed unusually happy and excited, almost like a proud kid. The way I was able to get into the premiere was easy—I faked out The Wartoke Concern by calling them and telling them that I'm a reviewer and need tickets. In good conscience I made it a point to "review" the movie by describing it to a friend.

FZ quoted by Michael Bloom, "Interview with the Composer," Trouser Press #47, February, 1980

So far it's just playing New York, because I'm paying for everything and don't have a distribution deal yet. If the lines form around the block I'll have a deal, and then go out to the world at large.

FZ interviewed by Kelly Lange (March 16, 1980)

It's called Baby Snakes, and it'll be coming out in June.


Other Screenings

Mark Lundahl, "Frank Zappa Remembers San Ber'dino," The Sun, Baltimore, April 7, 1980

Other recent Zappa developments include his new movie, Baby Snakes, which will be released in June. The onstage documentary, which also features clay animation work by Bruce Bickford, has been well received in showings in New York and Paris.

George Tirebiter, "Frankly Speaking," Upbeat, December, 1980

Zappa's latest movie is called Baby Snakes, "a movie about people who do stuff that is not normal." He refused to comment on the plot, but added that it received favorable response when shown at Cannes at the [Midem] Convention. However, since it is without a distribution arrangement, Snakes has been shelved at the moment—a situation Zappa is trying to change.

FZ, interviewed by Co de Kloet, May 16, 1982

CDK: What happened to the film BABY SNAKES?

FZ: It's gonna be a while before it comes out. Probably it won't come out in theatres in Europe. I made two television shows out of it. They are being offered for sale now.

CDK: So in the USA it's in the cinemas.

FZ: No, not yet, because I have no more money to work on it.

CDK: I thought the version I saw was the final version.

FZ: Yes, but there is one problem in the USA. If you make a film and somebody in a scene whistles a tune and it is not your song you have to pay money to the person who wrote that song. In BABY SNAKES there are 30 songs by other people . . . maybe 2 SECONDS each of somebody whistling or humming it . . . you have to pay each of those composers which I did . . . except for this one guy who wrote one song that is in ONE scene who refuses to give permission to have it used . . . a song called SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, an old song . . . and the copyright owner demands that it will be removed from the film, otherwise he'll sue me . . . But in order to take that one song out of the film which lasts about 3 SECONDS it will cost me $50.000 to $100.000 to chop the movie up . . . so that's a problem in the USA.

FZ, Exploratorium, San Francisco, May 20, 1984

The problem with Baby Snakes is simply this: a lot of people have said, "Sure, give me this film! We'll just sort of take it and distribute it," but nobody wants to give me any money. And since I spent all my own money to make this film, I take a very dim view of people doing me those kinds of favours.


The Production

FZ quoted on Rock et Folk, June, 1980 (translation by A. Murkin)

I paid for it all out of my own pocket. I got in touch with Polytel, they saw about 20 minutes, were delighted with it, wanted to finance it, but demanded in return the rights to my records throughout the whole world. That was quite possible, I hadn't yet signed to CBS (outside the American continent). But they didn't offer enough, and I didn't want to put my musical career in jeopardy for the film. So I've done more concerts to finance it. It's cost me $500,000.


Bruce Bickford

David Fricke, "Mechanic of 'Joe's Garage' father of 'Baby Snakes'—Zappa Lives!," Circus, February 19, 1980

Zappa explains that there was one eight-month period when he gave Bickford, on Zappa's payroll since the early '70s, a storyboard to complete while he was on tour. When Zappa returned, he found Bickford hadn't done any of the assignment, but instead spent the time making little clay scientists with lab smocks and slide rules as well as little girls in period costumes. "He hadn't done any of the job, but he'd accumulated all these boxes of people and people parts."

"Sure, Frank's a real dictator," says Bickford, admitting Frank was somewhat tee-ed off that the storyboard wasn't done. "But sometimes with me, he gets something much better than what he asks for," as in the cheeseburger sequence. "So sometimes it's to his advantage to ease off and get something else."


The Concept

FZ, interviewed by Michael Branton, Collage, December, 1977

"I started another movie, called Baby Snakes," says Frank, "which we ought to have out by summertime. A bunch of really famous people are in it. You have these baby snakes, see, and you have the universe, and they relate to each other."


General Notes

From: JWB

The live material on Baby Snakes was recorded on October 30 & 31, 1977. The recording studio footage is from Summer 1977 (Lather link track and claymation soundtrack sessions) and Summer 1978 (Sheik Yerbouti overdub sessions).

The interview and shopping footage was filmed in Munich, Germany in September 1978. (Zappa edited the large amount of unused material into a German TV special called "We Don't Mess Around".)

And the claymation is either from Summer 1977 or Summer 1978.

From: "G.D. Pratt"

Baby Snakes also exists as an edited down version, running 90 mins or so.

From: Patrick Neve

By now you probably know that Janet The Planet married Denny Walley.

From: Bill

There was one (Zappa's Universe) show at Lincoln Center in Feb 93. I sat 2 seats away from Janet the Planet who was sitting next to her husband Denny Walley. Did I talk to them? Nah ... I may have said hello or nodded my head in greeting.

From: Patrick Neve

I believe Brian Rivera is a musician of some sort and may actually have an album called "Tragedy At Hand." Nice fingernails, Brian. Was that his tragedy? :)

From: Dan R. Priebe

Bruce Bickford's outlandish clay animation is beyond belief with zooms, morphings, etc. And actually, it doesn't even look like clay, it looks like meat.


The Short Version

Following the timing code from the DVD release, the 90 min. version of the movie went something like this:


The Video

October 28, 1987
Honker Home Video/MPI, #MP 4000

Video was packaged with Honker "No-D" Glasses (source: Kier)
Running time: 183 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language
Formats: US NTSC and international PAL.

From: Richard Fox

A 3 1/2 hour feature based around the Halloween concert in 1977 in NYC. There is about 1 1/2 hours of concert footage and the rest is composed of the typical Zappa wierdness, noise, crowd scenes, backstage scenes, claymation scenes and a look at Barking Pumpkin's warehouse.

Tape Cover


December 8, 2003
Eagle Vision EREDV371
All Regions

December 9, 2003
Eagle Eye
Region 1

Original Announcement

Once again, the ZFT has announced a new release, but in its own special way.

Official Zappa News List, August 12, 2003

Now you can get down & shirty with your bad self!

The Sheik Yerbouti T-shirt is suddenly for no reason at all available here, now, at Barfko-Swill, for your clothing pleasure—the perfect thing to wear at your own personal viewing of the next-to-be-released DVD of Baby Snakes.


The Barfies, August 31, 2003

On 21 December 1979, Baby Snakes premiered in New York City in Dolby Stereo. FZ set up a special PA system in the theater so it could sound just like a real concert. Cut to:

During Joe"s vault tour of duty 2002/3, he uncovered a 4-channel mix (that have existed for (20) years) for the movie soundtrack. This was a matter of great import. According to the vast knowledge that is (aka Joe"s booklet) this mix had never been issued—not even on the prints for theaters. Why? (It exists on 2-inch analog tape reels—16 of them—& also on a 35 mm mag film—so says the box containing the reel. Yes, & but also in the vault, suddenly more 2-inch tapes labeled by FZ: "Quad Film Tracks" & dated "Sept. 5, 1979"—Dweezil"s 10th birthday. To Joe, the information on the track sheets suggested 4-channel mixes of material from the movie or possibly intended for the movie . . .??!! And the track sheets defined "Quad" as: Front left & right channels, center channel & mono surround channel. Hmmm. Is this not what later became known as Dolby Pro-Logic?). But, alas, UMRK was down. So was Joe.

You might be wondering, what does this mean? It means he was depressed because he could not listen to a fucking thing!

UMRK was down because it was being reconstituted to accommodate all of the challenges of l.o.r.d. retrieval systems (some have yet to be invented) as well as Futchum (red laser, blue ray and other highly ambient domains).

What else the studio audience doesn"t know is that when first we thought about re-releasing FZ films, the world was in laserdiscotech mode. Although FZ had made D2 Masters, the fates, like Thelma & Louise, took a left at Wednesday. (World turns a bunch here and dvd takes a big byte out of the ass & sample rate of the 12-inch laser.) These masters were edited and prepared by FZ for the laser format circa 1992. Later that nite, Baby Snakes, her very self, pink & wet, demanded to be the best kind of pet—full-blown! Even as archiving is a whole other universe of nightmares & problems across multifarious platforms & formats, it was then that we refused to be foiled by progeric technologies. With purposes and fingers crossed we nevertheless entered the dvd domain. (You might have noticed our thundering approach with the release of Halloween.)

Up go the shaving heads. At this point in the development of our plot, we decided to remaster the existing 2-trk mix & master the mystery 4-trk mix for academy consideration. The sixteen tapes were heat treated, Suzy Homemaker style, at Capitol Studios, then transported personally by Joe, his very self, to Future Disc. They"ve got the big honkin converters for the transfer from analog to digital. And they"ve got Steve. After the conversion the mastering could be done by Steve Hall. And then we won"t be small! What a grand idea thought everyone in unison. Oops! Down go the shaving heads. Steve"s Sonic Solutions addressed only 8 channels. We had at least 9. (Insert lyrics to the song Baby Snakes right now.) Back to Joe"s booklet—for Kent Huffnagle"s emergency phone number! And lo, he did emerge—with his portable ProTools rig at the ready, to synchronize and lock audio to smpte time code (one of the 9 channels)—the make-up, in its new digital format—the costume.

Nine reels into the transfer session the horrorful unrelenting truth ravelled. The mix fell apart. Joe did not. He was moved by an other Master. With his index finger fixed firmly in the upper margins of the effluvium he declared, pointedly & heroically & very unlike MacArthur, "I"m going to the Vault!" Mystery solved. The very bad (& the not so bad) tapes were returned to the dark ages from whence they shall ne"ermore return. Cluelessness is not an option. The lad searched the night for any tapes that could possibly contain a workable version of this mix. (As in a worthy version of the actual soundtrack in its entirety.)

What about those "Quad Film Track" reels, then? At Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (and at Capitol) Joe set about baking this new batch—the first step in the recipe for playback. This is the moment of greatest risk (and reward). Can it play? Maybe we have just this one shot to make the transfer. [Xfer = (2joe+ umrk) + (kent + rig)]. Can the data be retrieved? Will it be destroyed before we even know what we"ve lost? Something? Anything? Is it great? Is that all there is? Is it all there? These reels contain bitchen 4-track mixes of all of the concert performances in the film—and then some.

Here"s where the plot gets slippery. Ok. The tapes are great. It"s all FZ mixes. And it"s all the concert performances and even some rehearsals. But what it"s not: The Soundtrack to Baby Snakes. Intact. Ouch! What means this? Maybe the soundtrack would have to be completely rebuilt. And if from scratch, what the hell does that exist of?

But nothing (neither rain nor scratch) can deter our intrepid Vaultmeister from his appointment with destiny. Bring it! Armed with these transfers and a spiffy studio version of the song Baby Snakes from 1978 4-track mixes by FZ with Joe Chicarelli, and the original dolby stereo film track (for replacement parts that were not in evidence elsewhere) Joe, and the beamish buff, Huffnagle, verily set forth in service to Noblesse Assemblage. And therefore was it brought to the lowly & humble mixlab-h* of Kent. . And also was it brought the wondrous 21st century munitions: Mother"s Original Circus Animal Cookies & everpopular Snickers" Pop"ables. Thusly bolstered, holstered & upholstered and with good taste did they use the original 2-track audio of the film. To mirror the soundtrack. To faithfully recreate each & every single edit made by FZ. From each and every music source. And to correct pitch—due to vast continental drift and frame rate tensile calisthenics. Three days of the condor later did our crusading chocolateers emerge.

The newly reconstituted Baby Snakes was delivered to Dweezil at the newly reconfigured UMRK.

Dateline Los Angeles: Dweezil mixes it up with Joe and Kent. Steve Hall remasters 2-track & masters 5.1 audio.

p.s. wherever we should have used capital letters and didn"t it"s because we"re on a budget and we can"t afford them.

* not to be confused with a canine breed.

thanks, joe. gz, c. September, 2003










What next?


Corné van Hooijdonk, December 6, 2003

It's got a great booklet type thing: 'Department of Entertainment Security' with leaflets, photographs etcetera. Also a set of NO-D glasses.

Jon Naurin, December 8, 2003

Seeing the Roxy Trailer in DVD quality sure is a tease. No release date mentioned, though. Is it really the same trailer they had up on (which I lost in a hard drive crash)? I thought this one felt longer. Haven't had the time to watch the whole movie yet, but what I've seen looks great. Two Zappa DVDs within one month—who'd expected that?

BengoFury, December 8, 2003

The trailer is 3:14, although in crappy .mov format...

Jon Naurin, December 8, 2003

Ah, so is the one on the DVD. 3:14, that is.

Sergio Martorelli

In the main menu, highlight the "Eyes Only" stamp. You'll hear an interesting soundbyte.

The release date of the DVD was first announced as November 18, 2003; then changed to December 9, 2003. Here's the cover art (sent by Sergio Martorelli):

DVD cover art

And here is the cover of the Brazilian edition of the DVD, courtesy once again of Sergio Martorelli:

Brazil DVD


DVD Re-release

Eagle Rock
October 14, 2013

The Torture Never Stops

This Special Edition 3DVD set brings together three programmes by Frank Zappa.


Additional informants: Joe Franks, Kristian Kier, Milhouse

Maintained by Román García Albertos
This section formerly maintained by Reverend Neve
This dog last modified: 2019-08-17