When Alex Winter became the first filmmaker to get access to a vault of Frank Zappa's private videos, he could not decide initially whether it was a blessing or a curse.
It took Winter six years to work through the material and turn it into the documentary "Zappa," which presents a unique portrait of the influential late musician.
"He was much more than this groovy, mustachioed rock guitar guy," said Winter. "He was a political satirist and he was an artist and a filmmaker. ... I really wanted to just tell what I considered to be an extraordinary life story of somebody engaged in a very interesting period of American history."
"Zappa," released for sale and rent online on Friday, traces the musician's life from his childhood memories of experimenting with explosives, through his three decades as avant-garde composer and singer, and his political ambitions. Zappa died in 1993 of prostate cancer at age 52.
Much of the material comes from Zappa himself.
"He would hang out with his friends in his basement and he would slap on a film camera or a video camera, and they would talk for hours about all the things that interested them.
"From a documentary standpoint, it's like dying and going to heaven but it's also a curse, right?" Winter said. "I looked at it and I thought, 'There's the next six years of my life,' and it was."
Winter was given permission to use the footage by Zappa's wife Gail, who has since died. The filmmaker and actor, who starred in the "Bill & Ted" comedy movies, raised much of the money from a crowdfunding website.
Asked what he thought Zappa would make of the documentary, Winter quipped that he would likely loathe it.
"If you're Frank Zappa, the last thing you'd want is your whole life put together and tied with a neat little bow. ... He'd be like 'please, please don't do this for me."