DVD Review: Frank Zappa: A Token of His Extreme

STUDIO: Eagle Rock | PRODUCER: Frank Zappa | CAST: Frank Zappa, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Chester Henderson, Tom Fowler
6/4/13 | PRICE: DVD $14.97
Zappa on The Mike Douglas Show
NR | 90 min. | Music | 1:33 fullscreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Frank Zappa was so incredibly prolific in his nearly three-decade career of recording and performing that newcomers could wind up avoiding his work altogether, because they don’t know where to begin. If such is the case, this terrific live performance video is highly recommended, as it showcases Zappa at his finest and contains one of the best iterations of his ever-changing band, the Mothers.

A Token of his Extreme is so seminal that it is been oft-bootlegged, has been on and off the obvious Internet sources (YouTube) and large chunks of it were even included by Zappa himself in a 1982 VHS compilation called “The Dub Room Special” (now available on DVD). This release, however, is the first opportunity to see a perfect copy of the full show and to hear the soundtrack completely re-mastered.

The concert, shot in a studio of KCET-TV, is a great example of the range of Zappa’s work, from the goofy novelty tunes (“Montana”), sublime jazz-oriented rock (“Inca Roads”), reworkings of old Mothers social-commentary (“Trouble Every Day”) and hook-driven pieces that allow for musical improvisation (“Florentine Pogen”).

Frank Zappa: A Token of his Extreme sceneThe five-person version of the Mothers featured here — including George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and Ruth Underwood — were among the best musicians Zappa ever worked with,. They were able to perfectly interpret his precisely-composed works while adding occasional ad-libs that seemed intended to thoroughly amuse their bandleader.

Zappa financed the show himself, recording a concert that took place on August 27, 1974, and adding the mind-bogglingly weird and utterly brilliant claymation of Bruce Bickford (later seen in Zappa’s Baby Snakes feature). The show was intended for distribution on PBS or American syndication, but it never played on U.S. TV, although it did appear on various European networks.

Zappa’s “flash-cut” editing style might’ve been the source of the problem, but it was more likely that only one tune was known to the record-buying public at large (the aforementioned “Montana”) and Bickford’s astounding claymation was a just bit too much for the average American TV viewer.

Whatever the case, two minutes of the program actually debuted on The Mike Douglas Show (!) in 1976. The full Douglas appearance is included here as a bonus, and three things are immediately striking: the fact that Zappa performs a lengthy piece for solo guitar; that he shows a segment from Extreme that showcases some of the Bickford’s downright scariest animation; and that Frank is seated next to Jimmie “J.J.” Walker and Kenny Rogers. Seventies afternoon TV was often a very odd mixture of elements.

Buy or Rent DVD Release: Frank Zappa: A Token Of His Extreme
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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”