After a festival run that’s played dates at SXSW, Silverdocs in Maryland and Sheffield Doc/Fest in England, there will be a different vibe in the air for the Los Angeles premiere of “Bob and the Monster” when it plays at the Cinefamily August 4th as part of the “Don’t Knock the Rock” Festival. Given that its subject Bob Forrest was once a local legend just blocks away from the theater on the Sunset Strip as the lead singer for the club favorite and Red Hot Chili Peppers contemporary Thelonious Monster and now burnishing an even greater reputation as a drug counselor a little bit further down Sunset Boulevard, the screening undoubtedly could result in more tears shed than during an episode of “Celebrity Rehab,” where Forrest has regularly appeared to counsel drug and alcohol-addled Hollywood types in front of the public.
In the months since “Bob and the Monster”’s premiere in March, it’s been surprising to see Forrest return to the TV show since it was obvious in Austin that Forrest was deeply conflicted about the series despite the fact he’s become the clear star of the show. Regal in a bohemian way underneath an ever-present fedora with a mane of reddish hair flowing out to crown a weathered face, Forrest has not only been the voice of experience and wisdom, but also a rare presence of warmth and soul.
As one finds out in Keirda Bahruth’s documentary, those were qualities that weren’t always immediately on display from Forrest in the way he treated others while becoming dependent on a variety of drugs during the ‘80s, yet was something he always managed to sneak into his music. Thankfully, they didn’t escape the ears (or eyes) of Bahruth, whose documentary works as well as it does because she’s a longtime fan.
As Bahruth told me in an interview during SXSW, it was the music from before and after Forrest’s crash that drew her to his story and as she and Forrest explain in this excerpt, she wasn’t the first to attempt to mount a film about his life:
Keirda Bahruth: I have been aware of Bob since I was a teenager through his band Thelonious Monster. I was a fan of his band and through that, I came across a [solo] record that he put out called "The Bicycle Thief" in 2000. When I heard that record, I was really moved. I knew Bob had a drug problem back in those days and "The Bicycle Thief" is a very autobiographical record, so you could hear a lot of his story. And I became very intrigued with wanting to make a film about him. I knew that there was a really compelling, interesting story, and Bob is very likeable, so I approached him.
Bob Forrest: “The Bicycle Thief” record really is a document of what happened after the crash – it has a song about the first time I picked up a guitar sober, like really sober after years of trying. And I always feared getting back into music because I thought it would lead back into drugs. A lot of that is on there – that hesitancy. It's a pretty honest document of what it's like to survive drug addiction and what it's like to try to create a second happier life. Then [Keirda] came and asked about the story and the story hadn't been written yet. That's why the film kind of ends like what is he doing? [laughs] I like that feeling because I don't know what I'm doing. I've got a company. I know that. I'm barely breaking even, I know that. I've got a philosophy that's not very popular, I know that. [laughs]
KB: But you know what, Bob? One of the things that he said to me when I said I want to make a documentary about you, and he said, "that's great. There's been a few people that have tried already." So what had happened there?
BF: There was more of a kind of biopic version of it and then people were compiling things, but why I think the film is so compelling is that there is a developing second act of my life. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "There's no second acts in American life" – that's because he's an alcoholic who died of alcoholism and never had a second chance at life. So my getting sober then is in the process of becoming. And I think that's documented well in the movie.
When we spoke, it was less than 24 hours after the film debuted and while Forrest had some minor quibbles, he should be ultimately pleased with how “Bob and the Monster” turned out. For a life that has taken some dramatic twists and turns between Forrest’s simultaneous rise as a rocker signed to a major label and fall as a victim of substance abuse to a tumultuous family life (deserving of a separate doc all its own) through becoming a savior for others, the film is appropriately wild in form with claymation sequences and obvious changes in camera quality, giving it a homemade feel that seems every bit as hard earned as Forrest’s own journey to find inner peace.
But don’t expect tranquility on the Cinefamily stage Thursday as Forrest will reunite with his Thelonious Monk bandmates for a Q & A and a post-show performance after the 8 o’clock screening, making it the place to be tomorrow night.