Touted as "a movie about people who do stuff that is not normal," Frank Zappa's Baby Snakes chronicles a late-'70s Halloween stand in New York City (a zany enough proceeding in its own right) with digressions throughout... more » the first half for backstage antics, band interviews, and some outlandish clay animation from Bruce Bickford, with whose work Zappa was obviously smitten. Onstage, Zappa is a live wire, the audience is appropriately rambunctious, and the band--an especially potent incarnation of the famous Mothers of Invention--is tight as could be. The film amounts to a three-hour musical carnival whose participants lack any trace of artistic or personal inhibition. Zappa, who died in 1993, always worked with consummate musicians, and Baby Snakes showcases the cream of the crop: Terry Bozzio (one of the greatest drummers ever to command a kit), bassist Patrick O'Hearn, keyboard wizard Tommy Mars, and even pop chameleon Adrian Belew. The DVD packaging, with its deluxe miniature dossier on Zappa and the film, is fabulous, and the sound and picture seem about as good as they could be, under the influence--that is, the circumstances. Undeniable are Zappa's intelligence and charisma, which flicker and blaze every second he's on screen. The progressive-leaning rock and jazz music is frequently interrupted for meandering spoken interludes and is certainly not for all tastes. But Frank Zappa was a force to behold, and Baby Snakes offers a unique cultural education for anyone bold enough to give it a spin. "Without deviation," Zappa wrote, "progress is not possible." Baby Snakes is one of Frank's most fervent contributions to progress. --Michael Mikesell« less
Solo Goodspeed | Granada Hills, CA United States | 12/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Frank Zappa, New York, Halloween ...... Bozzio, Belew, Bickford ....... how many more reasons could a person need to desire this majorly non-boring round thing????The DVD release of Baby Snakes is a cause for celebration, both for long time fans and novices who are just discovering FZ - for the latter in particular, who never got the chance to experience the Zappa performance spectacle.At its core, Baby Snakes is a concert film, but it is also a keen insight into the man's creative mechanism, a free association style that embraced all manner of media in addition to music. A prime example is the generous screentime given to clay animator Bruce Bickford, with whom Zappa had worked with on a video project for PBS around 1975. Bickford creates erotic nightmares in clay and on film while Zappa prods him on in metaphorical abandon, the result complimented by jarring sound design created spontaneously by Zappa and his cohorts in the studio. We also witness FZ rehearsing his bandmates, creating on the spot extraveganzas with Roy Estrada and a gas mask, spying on the backstage cavortings of musicians and crewmates, possibly developing new theories and creative concepts from witnessing the bizarre goings on ......Ultimately, in the course of its 2.75 hours' length, Baby Snakes evolves into a relentless live assault, a labor of love dedicated to the appreciative crowd of New York's finest crazy persons, who are also afforded ample screen time. We learn the History of the Poodle (God's 3rd mistake), witness a debut performance of "I Have Been In You", observe monster drummer Terry Ted Bozzio in a Speedo transform himself into the devil for the number "(Mammarian Protuberances) 'N' Beer", enjoy featured vocal performances by keyboardist Tommy Mars (Pound for a Brown), guest stunt guitarist Adrian Belew (City of Tiny Lites), and even FZ's bodyguard Big John Smothers (Muffin Man), witness the onstage flogging of unwitting audience members with a real leather whip ("This is Halloween, we don't **** around!!") and of course the recommended diet of Frank's own searing guitar work. A truly priceless moment in the film is Bozzio's drumming/vocal performance on the epic finale "Punky's Whips"; if only they gave Oscars for best supporting musical performance in a documentary.As for the DVD package itself: It is presented as a case study of People Who Do Things That Are Not Normal, complete with file folder bearing the official seal of the Department of Entertainment Security containing typewritten documents, photographs, trade reviews and other critical evidence. The transfer effort is admirable, though the film does show its age in some sections, graininess and a true live mix (not the "enhanced" type that Zappa favored on many audio releases) which at times loses definition. That's rock 'n roll. Due to compression and encoding issues associated with DVD production, the actual volume level is fairly low; this can of course be resolved by cranking your receiver, but you better be riding the levels when you push that menu button! These are minor quibbles in light of this significant video chronicle of the man Frank Zappa, who wrote, produced, directed, scored (duh) and largely financed the original film into existence back in 1979.The result the closest we've got to a legacy to a creative mind like few others .... watch him work, watch him play, listen as he has his say ("The important thing about this instrument is the way the air smells as it comes out of these holes"), see the Läther Band onstage, venting Warner Brothers rage ..... and don't forget to vote.We will never forget you, Frank."
Surround Encoding Error Kills Otherwise Great DVD
Bill Camarata | Cleveland, OH USA | 01/12/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a movie for anyone who enjoys Zappa's music and essential if you never got to see the late great Frank live. I can do without some of the clay animation, which gets tedious after a while, but otherwise an essential concert film.
Now for the bad news. It appears that in the DVD authoring process, the front and rear channels got reversed. Therefore, if you listen to the DVD in 5.1 surround, while dialog and singing comes out of the center channel, it also comes from the back speakers. Front speakers have ambience, reverb and other rear channel information.
I wrote to the company that manufactured the disc after figuring out this defect that made portions of the movie unintelligible. The QC guy at Eagle Rock wrote me back and said, "There is nothing wrong with the disc. Please check to make sure your system is set up properly." I think that after 100+ other DVDs in my collection sound perfect(including the disc of setup/test tones), this one wouldn't stand out so much if there was nothing wrong.
If you have a DVD player with discrete outputs for the 5.1 signal, you can switch the cables and hear it properly. Otherwise you have to re-route wires and/or speakers. It was an excellent effort on Dweezil's part to convert this previously unheard mix to 5.1, and Frank's mix is fantastic when heard as it was meant to be, but sadly, this release is another example of how the Zappa estate has been falling short on preserving the beauty of Frank's music. FZ would have never let this happen when he was in charge. The stereo mix is fine, as there is less to mess up. Still essential, but flawed in its presentation."
You can't do that on stage anymore
jeff smith | portland or | 01/13/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's no two ways about it, Frank Zappa is an acquired taste. For the casual viewer, Baby Snakes - clocking in at 2 hours & 45 minutes - may prove to be unendurable, but for Zappa fans it's not nearly long enough. Like an overstuffed avant-garde cannoli, its bursting with concert footage, backstage buffoonery, improvisational noise-making, nightmarish claymation and lots of audience participation. This is a unique document about a specific time & place - NYC in the late 70's - and the annual ritual that was Frank Zappa's Halloween shows. Seeing this film again for the first time since it played 24 hours a day in a Times Square theater and having attended a few Palladium shows during that same era, Baby Snakes sure brings back many fond memories. FZ was many things - composer, musician, critic & comedian - all of which are clearly displayed in Baby Snakes."
Great film, bad transfer
jeff smith | 12/11/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"After WAY too many years of waiting, we are finally treated to the first Zappa film to be released on DVD in the US! Baby Snakes is a great choice to start with and would have been my first pick too. This is the long (~2.5 hours), unedited version with lots of live footage from the 1977 legendary Halloween show at the Palladium in NYC supplemented with backstage footage, claymation footage by Bruce Bickford and more. Even some historic moments make it to the film such as footage of future Zappa guitarist (but then a mere die-hard fan) Warren Cuccurullo backstage with Zappa praising Zappa to the camera. Later Zappa tells Warren that he'd be willing to audition him for the band.Although I am happy this is now available, there are a few problems with the DVD that dropped my rating to a three from a five. First, there is no real decent bonus material on the DVD. We are offered only trailers, promos, etc. Infinitely more importantly, the film transfer to DVD is just bad. There is no reason for a transfer like this considering the enormous advances made in this regard. The tools to do this job right are available. The Who's "The Kids Are Alright" is an excellent example of a wonderful, effective restoration and transfer. Unfortunately, the picture on the Baby Snakes DVD is really showing its age. It looks fuzzy, dirty and the colors are washed out. From the beginning titles we see dust and scratches on the film that leads to footage that is blurred and faded. Overall, this is a brilliant film sadly presented via a hack print seemingly just thrown onto a DVD. This bad presentation is a disservice to the important, unique work of Zappa and only makes the film seem dated and cheap. The result will certainly be less effective at reviving the interest of old fans let alone drawing in new ones. Despite this disappointment by the Zappa family, it's still a must have."
jeff smith | 01/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this tour back in 1977 at Stanford University so it was great being able to relive some of those moments. This brought back great memories of the 70's and what it was like to attend concerts back then. The shows were more of an event then just a money making production like they are now. Watching some parts of the DVD actually brought tears to my eyes thinking back on how much fun we had back then. This is a great tribute to the 70's music scene. I saw Frank several times after this show but still think that this show was the most fun. I miss the 70's and early 80's music scene terribly but at least I was able to get back into the moment briefly by watching this outstanding DVD and relive the moment with my teens who wish they could have been around back in the day."