Documentary Review: Don’t be tricked into watching “Vinyl Generation”

The organizing principle of “Vinyl Generation,” a 2016 documentary about music and culture in Czechoslovakia during its Iron Curtain years, and just after it, is that the rebellious act of buying and listening to Western rock music on vinyl LPs and 45s created the Czech culture that flowered after the “Velvet Revolution.”

The country went from days when you’d try to score the new Lou Reed or Frank Zappa LP on the down low, worried that you were buying from “police informants” or undercover state security police, from artist making music under the thumb of their Soviet overlords to experiencing freedom. And many of those rebels went on to become artists, art critics, promoters and club owners.

This before-and-after Vaclav Havel’s “Velvet Revolution” is covered more briefly, authoritatively and thrillingly in the opening chapter of Alex Winter’s definitive new Frank Zappa documentary biography, “Zappa.”

The Russians labeled rock in general under a generic “Zappa” label, so that film reminds us. “Decadent,” “subversive,” etc., all came to be associated with Frank, so much so that he was invited over to give a joyous “freedom” concert when the Bolsheviks were finally ushered out.

“Decadence” has been the byword for organizing art exhibits and even naming bands in the post-“Velvet” Czech Republic, Slovakia having split off for good measure some time later.

But the film, as rushed into release here shows, is nothing but a hustle, promising “rare” footage of Reed, Zappa — and heck, even Mudhoney.

Anybody who knows the legalities of “fair use” knows what that entails in Keith Jones’ film — no music rights, just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, Frank talking from the stage, Mudhoney starting a song, Lou warming up.

The rest of the movie may have a worthwhile intent (director Keith Jones did “Punk in Africa”) as assorted alumni of this era in their country’s history show us old show bills, recordings and share their memories of former venues on a walking tour.

But it’s subtitled tedium itself. You want the flavor of what went down, stream “Zappa.” “Vinyl Generation” looks positively shabby and half-assed in comparison.

MPA Rating: unrated

Cast:Veronika Bromová, David Cajthaml, Václav Havelka, Otto Urban, Ondrej Struma, Marcel Hrubý

Credits: Directed by Keith Jones. A Dark Star release.

Running time: 1:13

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