200 Motels (1971)

videotape, colour, 1.66:1
mono, English

An American fantasy film directed by Tony Palmer and Frank Zappa. It was the first commercial feature film to be recorded entirely on videotape and was taped at Pinewood Studios in the UK from 1 February 1971 for a week. The budget was reported as $600,000.

Plot Summary

A surreal collection of sketches and musical numbers inspired by life on the road.


Visual Directed by: Tony Palmer
Characterizations Directed by: Frank Zappa
© Murakami Wolf Prod. Inc., Bizarre Prod. Inc. MCMLXXI [1971]
A Murakami Wolf/Bizarre production
Produced by: Jerry Good, Herb Cohen
Story and Screenplay by: Frank Zappa
Shooting Script by: Tony Palmer
Special Material: Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan
Lighting Director: Peter Dyson
Vision Mixer: Anne Rowe
Video Tape Editors: Barry Stephens, Ray Nunney
Music Composed and Arranged by: Frank Zappa
Sound Supervisor: Peter Hubbard
Costume Design: Sue Yelland
Makeup: Paul Rabiger
Hairdresser: Mervyn Medalie
Animation: Murakami Wolf Prod.
Production Design: Cal Schenkel

The Mothers of Invention

  • Frank Zappa
  • Mark Volman
  • Howard Kaylan
  • Ian Underwood
  • Aynsley Dunbar
  • George Duke

Theodore Bikel
Keith Moon
Janet Ferguson
Lucy Offerall
Jimmy Carl Black
Martin Lickert
Dick Barber
Don Preston
Pamela Miller
Ruth Underwood
Judy Gridley
Ringo Starr


Variety 29 October 1971 p.3
[T]he zaniest piece of filmusical fantasy-­comedy since The Beatles' “A Hard Day's Night” some seven years ago. […] The occasional dialog vulgarity is not offensive, and comes across well in the context of a satirical point being made. It is unfortunate that unescorted teenagers cannot see the film; after all, they can buy the records. Nobody can get all there is in one viewing, and repeat business should be an important factor in supported runs. […] The dazzling optical effects were mostly effected through the electronics of the vidtaping; the possibilities for dramatic texturizing are limitless. The manifold dissolves and other special effects come across perfectly; this is in contrast to conventional film process work where, in 1971, most dissolves look worse than they were a generation ago. Over all, the film is a literal trip that should excite, interest and amuse pop-­music fans. Those who don't dig the music might get a little more insight into the contemporary scene, but hardened squares no doubt will remain unconvinced. – from a review by Murf

Cinema TV Today no.9961 (1 January 1972) p.29
Not so much a film, more of a test of endurance. Infuriatingly incomprehensible, dazzling to the eyes, perversely inaudible and displaying a contempt or everybody who is outside the magic circle of initiates. But this is by design not by accident, and the film must not be dismissed as negligible rubbish. It does not set out to entertain the audience but to engulf willing victims in a typhoon of mind-blowing sensations. The best of the pop music programmes on television have been doing this for some years and have created an audience that will bite the hand that feeds them with conventionally presented musicals. – from a review by Marjorie Bilbow

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.39 no.457 (February 1972) p.38
[A] confused and, in both senses, directionless film, compounded about equally of disastrously fragmented musical sequences and the feeblest verbal and physical horseplay. Zappa's rather ingenuous contention was that mass audiences would be initially stunned by Ringo Starr's opening dialogue (“He wants me to fuck the girl with the harp”, followed by a cut to Keith Moon in drag as a nun with a harp) and thereafter continually dazzled by the colour and visual effects. It seems more likely that even an audience untutored in more sophisticated ‘underground' experiments with such techniques will quickly realise that the film's visual barrage is little more than camouflage for the poverty of the action; while connoisseurs of the Mothers' other work will equally quickly tire of the stream of in-jokes and long instead for a modicum of variety, contrast, or even real wit in the material. – from a review by Tony Rayns



  • CinemaTV Today no.9961 (1 January 1972) p.29 – review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
  • Cinemeditor vol.21 no.2 (Summer 1971) p.24 – production notes
  • The Complete Index to British Sound Film Since 1928 by Alan Goble p.1 – credits
  • Film Score Monthly vol.3 no.1 (January 1998) p.45 – illustrated article (Ryko rocks on by John Bender)
  • Filmfacts vol.14 no.24 (1971) p.719 – reprinted reviews
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.214 no.49 (12 February 1971) p.10 – credits
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.218 no.27 (28 October 1971) p.3 – credits, review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.39 no.457 (February 1972) p.38 – credits, synopsis, review (by Tony Rayns)
  • Time Out no.96 (17 December 1971) p.34-37 – review
  • Variety 19 October 1971 p.3 – credits, review (by Murf)
  • Variety 3 November 1971 p.24 – note


  • 500 Essential Cult Movies: The Ultimate Guide by Jennifer Eiss with J.P. Rutter and Steve White p.282 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • Film Review 1972-73 by F. Maurice Speed (ed) p.234
  • Psychedelic Celluloid: British Pop Music in Film and TV 1965-1974 by Simon Matthews p.194 – illustrated review
  • by Walt Lee p.508 – credits
  • Rock-Film: In 450 film, trent'anni di Cinema & Rock by Paolo Belluso and Flavio Merkel p.75 – credits, note
  • Rock on Film by David Ehrenstein and Bill Reed pp.60, 257

Other sources

  • British National Film Catalogue vol.10 (1972) p.8 – credits