200 Motels (1971) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • "Touring makes you crazy", Frank Zappa says, explaining that the idea for this movie came to him while the Mothers of Invention were touring. The story, interspersed with performances by the Mothers and the Royal Symphony Orchestra, is a tale of life on the road. The band members' main concerns are the search for groupies and the desire to get paid.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • As Larry the Dwarf (Ringo Starr) descends onto a television soundstage carrying a steaming genie lamp, the German announcer (Theodore Bikel) asks him why he is dressed as Frank Zappa, the leader of the music group The Mothers of Invention. Larry responds that Frank forces him to dress up in order to have sex with a nun (Keith Moon) playing the harp. The announcer, whose is actually an American named Rance Muhammitz, states that Larry's statements are part of the score to 200 Motels, a movie that occurred as a fantasy while The Mothers of Invention were touring.

    As the band, who include Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar and George Duke, plays in concert, Muhammitz continues that the film addresses the ways in which "touring will make you crazy."

    The band stops in the town of Centerville, whose motto is "A real nice place to bring your kids up," consisting mainly of a boutique, a bar called Redneck Eats, the concert hall and a motel just like the hundreds of others in which they have stayed. As the band recovers from their show, Muhammitz appears and explains that the film's conceptual framework will be nonsensical. The band members realize that Frank is always listening to them, and attempt to act naturally so he cannot tell that they know he is recording them.

    While band member Cowboy Burtram (Jimmy Carl Black) cares only about the money they will earn for their roles in the film, another entourage member suggests that the musicians form a separate band and split from Zappa, who at age 30 is too old for rock and roll. As Muhammitz, accompanied by a female reporter (Pamela Des Barres), talks to the band, Mark and Howard enter Centerville, watched and judged by two groupies named Lucy and Janet (Lucy Offerall and Janet Neville-Ferguson).

    In the bar, Cowboy Burtram sings to patrons wearing hardhats and pig masks. Later, Cowboy Burtram questions whether or not Muhammitz is the devil.

    In a long monologue, Larry the Dwarf/Zappa states that the musician, as the consummate outsider, still has actual physical needs, and introduces an experimental reorientation facility designed to retrain useless old musicians. While some will enter the military and some learn shorthand, others will disappear on a special train.

    Back in the motel, Larry the Dwarf/Zappa feverishly writes a symphony. In his mind, the orchestra sings about soup and getting "hot and horny," after which the nun attempts to overdose. Meanwhile, Jeff, a former band member, takes drugs in a motel room and subsequently decides he is wasting his life and talent on Zappa's "comedy music." He then rolls the rancid bathroom rug into a cigarette and smokes it, after which he hallucinates images of alcohol, the devil, motel rooms and the other band members.

    The nun, afraid she is dying, is helped by Janet and Lucy, who then prepare to go out to what they call the "fake nightclub." As Janet performs a preparatory ritual involving squats, the band members also prepare for the evening, sprucing themselves up in the hope of finding a woman with whom to spend the night. Leaving their individual starting gates, much like at a race track, the men hurdle themselves into the club and quickly devolve into an orgy. After the nightclub is closed, one of the band members creates a potion and feeds it to another musician, who returns to his hotel room to hallucinate.

    In the final scene, Muhammitz returns to announce the end of the movie, as all of the characters gather on one stage to sing and sermonize the experimental and bizarre feature movie we just watched.

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