If you ever listened to Bob Forrest’s radio show, you know he doesn’t give a fuck about social media. Yet I’m compelled to gush about last night’s screening of Bob and The Monster, Keirda Bahruth’s 2011 documentary about him. It wasn’t exactly in Sensaround, but there was a pre-screening Q&A with the director/producer, the L.A. punk/addiction specialist subject, and fellow treatment specialist Andrew Spanswick, moderated by KPCC’s health editor Stephanie O’Neill. Really compelling and important stuff, mostly about treating drug addicts, and you will eventually be able to stream it on the Pasadena City College radio station website.
As for the movie, Bahruth succeeds in doing three things at once: Tracing Forrest’s unlikely trajectory from being the Next Bob Dylan to full-on junkie to beloved drug counselor; providing a time capsule of L.A.’s unmatched music scene with the Weirdos, Circle Jerks, Chili Peppers, Fishbone, and the like; contrasting the Thelonious Monster singer’s approach to treatment with the pharmaceutical-run mainstream. Somehow, the combination of all-star and no-holds-barred interviews (both brutally honest and loving), amazing live footage (from Raji’s to European festivals), and various types of animation to fill in the gaps (stop-motion animated needle sharing with an HIV carrier?) works.
Bahruth had a ton of juicy material to leave out. Forrest’s presumably rocky love life, his much-missed radio show, and the infamous Celebrity Rehab reality TV series, for example. But she wisely stayed focused on his role in L.A.’s music scene and its sordid underbelly. The warts-and-all depictions of Hollywood, Silver Lake, and even Palm Desert is not only genuine but Chandleresque. That’s appropriate, since there’s a recurring theme of Forrest’s trying to live up to the dark, dangerous, and alluring images of California held up by his boyhood idols Bukowski and Kerouac.
Fleshing out the band’s incredible list of members and collaborators (Dix Denney, John Doe, Flea…), it’s always been Forrest’s autobiographical, self-destructive, and revealing lyrics that made Thelonious Monster such a gem. This movie almost provides too much insight–oftentimes making it hard to watch for a fan like me who saw the band more than a dozen times without ever sharing dope with its members. But it’s real, it’s thought provoking, and it’s well worth your time.
Seek out Bob at film festivals, college screenings, and video-on-demand. And support public radio for making programs like last night’s possible.