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August 23, 2023

The Who’s Keith Moon as “The Hot Nun” in Frank Zappa’s 1971 Film, ‘200 Motels’

Written by Frank Zappa, who co-directed with Tony Palmer, 200 Motels is a musical film which sought to project the surrealistic reality of being a pop musician on the road in 1971. The film stands in history as the first full-length feature where the action was shot directly onto videotape and transferred onto 35mm film for cinema release. To do this, they used the old 3-strip Technicolor method of negative and print to isolate the three color signals – red, blue and green – and transfer them to 3-strip 35mm film. Shot in just 10 days at London’s Pinewood Studios, with a budget of around $650,000 from distributor United Artists, Zappa showed what the new medium could do with spectacular state-of-the-art visual effects.

Ringo Starr plays Larry the Dwarf, who is actually a sinister trout mask replica of a renowned bandleader.  “It was very strange actually,” Ringo explains on a track from Frank Zappa 200 Motels 50th Anniversary Edition. “A call came from the Apple office that Frank Zappa had this idea, and he wanted to present it to me. I thought, oh great, cos I’d heard Frank’s music. In a very musical way, it was very whacky actually. So, I invited Frank to my house. He laid this huge score out and said ‘I’ve got an idea to make this movie, and here’s the score.’ I said, ‘Why are you showing me the score? I can’t read music. But because of that I will do the movie.’”

It wasn’t just any part. “He told me he wanted me to play him, because he just wanted to be a musician in it,” Ringo remembers. The ex-Beatle wasn’t just any acting musician. “You couldn’t get a bigger pop star than me at the time. Also, it was strange, the Ringo-playing-Frank. It was a nice premise and I got to hang out with musicians, which is always a good deal.”

The veteran drummer was known for keeping time with other kit players. He would play The Concert for Bangladesh side-by-side with Jim Keltner, which by the look of the footage, was done so Ringo could joke around with someone between, and during, songs. For 200 Motels, Ringo brought along one of his best mates, Keith Moon, the pyrotechnically endowed beat-keeper for The Who. Moonie plays a Hot Nun. “[Zappa] wants me to fuck the girl with the harp,” Ringo, as Larry, says in the film upon seeing the habit-clad basher banging his way through the orchestra pit. “The magic lamp, he wants me to stuff it up her and rub it.”


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