When I first read the synopsis for Bob and the Monster , a documentary that chronicles rocker Bob Forrest’s meteoric rise to fame with punk band Thelonious Monster, his descent into drug addiction and subsequent recovery, I honestly rolled my eyes. Isn’t that a little over done? Hasn’t everyone seen at least three of these docs? Despite my hesitation, I slipped it into my DVD player. For the next 85 minutes, I sat riveted as the story of Bob, punk-rock, drug addiction, and recovery unfolded on the screen. What could have been a cliched story was instead both a brilliant rock documentary and a touching addiction recovery story that should not be missed.
When I asked director Keirda Bahruth how she got involved with this project, she exhales and asks, “The short version?” We laugh and she proceeds to tell me, “I heard The Bicycle Thief, which is a record that Bob put out with a new band.” Of course, it’s not quite that simple and she goes on to explain that her awareness of Bob Forrest began in the late 80s, when she was 15. “I knew of Thelonious Monster when I was a kid and I was really a big fan of his band and a big fan of that scene,” she recalls. It’s obvious that her love of the music, the artistry and the scene was what attracted her to this story. “It was just really incredible,” she says, “and Bob was at the centre of it. He was just a really likable, approachable, charismatic guy and I loved him. From a distance I saw what was happening to him.”
In 2004, Bahruth found The Bicycle Thief and fell in love with it. “I think it’s a beautiful, personal, gorgeous record. It was very surprising to me to hear this type of music coming out of Bob and hearing this story unfold,” she says. At that time there was a surge of creative, energetic documentaries being released like Dogtown and Z-Boys and The Devil in Daniel Johnston, and Bahruth felt the idea of the project really come together for her. “So we put some feelers out and someone put me in touch with him and we started filming the following week. I don’t think more than 3 months went by without something happening. He was growing during the course of the making of this film. It’s been a long road.”
Changing he was, but what is beautiful about this film is the intensely personal footage and interviews she was able to capture. I was interested to know if it was the level of comfort that Bahruth had achieved with her subject, or if it was the nature of Bob himself. “On one hand I think that Bob is a very open character anyway,” she answers. “He doesn’t like to hide his past. He doesn’t see a point in that, whether he was getting high or not. He also, I think, took a little while to warm up to me, in the sense that he knew that my artistic intentions were pure. I wasn’t looking to exploit him.”
For Bahruth, the telling of this story was its own challenge. Drawing inspiration from films like Dogtown and Z-Boys, she and editor Joshua Altman took a truly multimedia approach to the creation of its narrative. Using collage, quotes, voiceovers and stop-motion animation, a picture unfolds, not only of Bob’s life, but also of the music scene he was involved in, a wonderful fusion of both the music and recovery stories. “The stop motion animation was really a call back to a lot of the stuff I saw when I was growing up in the 80s, where claymation was everywhere,” Bahruth tells me. “It’s so life-like and being able to see the puncture of a needle going into the clay, it was realistic without being too exploitative. Watching people shoot drugs, I don’t think many people do, but I wanted to make sure that you were there, that you could see it. I really thought that was what we wanted to do. I was very fortunate to find these kids in France, Rabbits from Outer Space, who created these scenes with me through a translator over the phone. It was pure artistic joy to work with those guys.”
The film chronicles his life as a rocker, his ups and downs with drug addiction and, ultimately, his family history, which has had a profound effect on him. The film engages many of the people who surrounded Bob in his heyday, such as Courtney Love, Flea and Anthony Kedis from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as members of Fishbone and Jane’s Addiction, and of course, former members of Thelonious Monster. Despite the staggering amount of “star power” in the film, there is never the sense that Bahruth was fishing for big names to help sell her film. Instead, she simply talked to the people who knew Bob best. Watching the journey Bob took, especially when he was heavily using, it’s incredible that these people are still in his life, let alone willing to support him through recovery and the building of a new life. “Yeah, you know, Bob was an asshole, but he was hard to get mad at,” Bahruth says laughing, “He’s this Chaplinesque kind of goofball. It’s like a frustrating three-year-old. You’re not really angry at them you’re just like uggggghhh.”
That is, in short, the magic of Bob Forrest, and exactly the thing that allowed him to become such a brilliant addiction recovery councilor, allowing him to help others with the process of quitting drugs and recovery. “I love how encouraging Bob is,” Bahruth says of her subject and friend. “There are so many people that [are] down on themselves because they failed or because they think they can’t or whatever. Whether it’s addiction, whether it’s food, whatever it is, I just hope that people really get inspired by Bob to believe in themselves, and to believe they can do better in their small little microcausm of the world.” Inspirational is exactly the word I would use to describe this film, but to use it seems so cliched. The film defies all categorization, except to say that it is a stunning, energetic portrait of a man that everyone should want to know better, and Bahruth has done him such justice in capturing his unique character.
Bob and the Monster will have its final screening tonight, Friday, May 6 at Hot Docs. Visit their website for more details, but don’t miss the opportunity to see this genuinely incredible film.