Surprised to learn that an institution as fundamentally square as the LoC would screen something as inherently controversial as a Zappa flick? (Four of them, actually.) Norman Middleton says, Don’t be.
A senior producer at the Library of Congress and the host of the Frank Zappa Mini-Film Festival, Middleton begins his defense of the film schedule—which includes obscenity-laden classics like Uncle Meat, The Amazing Mr. Bickford, Does Humor Belong in Music?, and Motels—by clarifying that Zappa is not obscene—”he’s diverse.”
Turns out the diversity schtick is useful for more than just pandering. According to Middleton, the LoC’s big-tent curatorial philosophy is the “one reason the rock and roll film series exists. Because there’s practically no other way to present that kind of music at the Library of Congress.”
But is the LoC’s tent big enough for the larger- and grosser-than-life Zappa?
“Frank Zappa was a serious musician, and was considered so by most people. I was impressed by his political stance on censorship. And some serious orchestra’s [such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and others] have performed his music. But his films are a different kind of animal. He uses his sense of humor and his wry sense of life in these movies, and he also expands his artistic vision.”
But what about all the man-humping? And Zappa’s dirty, dirty mouth?
Middleton admits he had to watch Uncle Meat twice before committing to a screening. “It was a little wild, kind of obscene in the stricter since. So I had to watch it again to make sure I wanted to program it. To let the audience absorb the film as they will.”
Check out Washington City Paper’s City Lights write-up of Uncle Meat. “And,” Middelton reminds, “don’t forget your rubber chicken.”