‘Bob And The Monster’: The Curious Question Of What You Leave Out
Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 22, 2011
Bob And The Monster is an insightful, very interesting documentary about Bob Forrest, a musician turned unconventional drug counselor.
At this point, you fall into one of three categories. Many of you are saying, “Bob who?” Some of you are saying, “Wait, Bob Forrest who was the lead singer of Thelonious Monster?” And some of you are saying, “Wait, Bob Forrest who’s the down-to-earth counselor on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew?”
Yes! Bob Forrest.
The film tells the story of how Forrest moved restlessly in the creative scene of Los Angeles in the early 1980s until he set himself up with the band Thelonious Monster, which never became a huge popular success, but which worked closely with bands that did — especially the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose members speak at length about their experiences with Forrest, whom they count as a close pal.
Later, Forrest got clean and became a drug counselor, largely through his association with the Musicians Assistance Program, a program formed by jazz musician (and longtime heroin addict) Buddy Arnold to help musicians get off drugs. Frustrated by the limitations of what he sees as a deeply corporatized and broken recovery “industry,” Forrest recently struck out on his own to start a clinic in Hollywood. There, he says, he won’t yell at and judge and berate people who are in recovery as he says was done to him in most of the 20 or 30 rehabs he tried before he finally got off heroin.
Now, the tricky part for the filmmakers is that along the way, Forrest met Dr. Drew “Dr. Drew” Pinsky, who recognized his gift for working with people and gave him some formal education in the biology and psychology of addiction. Forrest became a critical part of the team that Pinsky used in his own work — the work that’s chronicled, among other things, on Celebrity Rehab, where Forrest has appeared for several seasons. Through being heavily featured on that show (often as the guy who goes out and tracks down people who are in the worst possible situations), Forrest has become sort of “reality-show famous,” if we can use that expression.
The fact that he is moderately famous now for appearing on a widely reviled but popular television show appears nowhere in the film. The show — the fact of the show, the fact that he’s well-known for the show, the fact that he has ever been on television as a counselor — isn’t even mentioned.
This came up in the Q&A afterwards with filmmaker Keirda Bahruth, who was asked whether the film received a different response at the recent Sheffield/Doc Fest in the UK than it’s received at festivals in the United States. Her response was that she was surprised by the fact that the UK audience asked her about why she didn’t mention in the film the thing for which Forrest is currently most well-known. She explained that in the UK, they’ve really embraced reality television, so they wondered why it wasn’t included, and she contrasted that response with reviews she cited (presumably including this one from the Hollywood Reporter) that have acknowledged that Forrest is now better known for the show than the band and still congratulated her for making no mention of that part of his life whatsoever.
Bahruth went into a sort of diplomatic mode at this point, explaining that she thinks Forrest got involved in Celebrity Rehab for “altruistic” reasons and a true desire to help people, but she said she’s “not a huge fan” of the show, so she’s happy to just sort of leave it to be a separate thing.
The distaste dripped from this explanation, along with her evident regret that Forrest had made the decision to be involved in the show (albeit with good intentions). When I later mentioned on Twitter that she’d talked about leaving it out because she thought was distasteful, I got a response from the film’s official Twitter feed, saying no, that wasn’t it — it was left out because it was “not a huge part of Bob’s life.”
I have to say … I struggle with that explanation. First of all, it’s really not the one they gave to the audience at the Q&A, which perhaps they assumed would be — as people who were taking time out of their day to watch respectable documentaries — sympathetic to the objections they have to the show. The discussion of leaving it out very quickly became a discussion of how they feel about the show and Forrest’s decision to do it. Second of all, it seems to me that whether you like or don’t like Forrest’s decision to participate in Celebrity Rehab, his explanation of the decision to do it would be both interesting and highly relevant to his story.
Either Bob Forrest, with everything he’s been through, is willing to embrace even the sometimes seedy world of reality television if it means you can get an addict to come to treatment (which is basically the explanation Dr. Drew often gives), which would be a natural extension of the “unusual approaches to getting people clean” story they’re telling, or he’s just doing it for the money, which would be important to hear about in light of other parts of the movie where he discusses his regrets about taking money for projects he wound up not being proud of. (Incidentally, the playing of his solo record is an enormously funny moment that’s so great, it would be worth seeing the whole film just for that.)
It’s pretty clear that Bahruth thinks the show is beneath Forrest, whom she admires a lot. Now, either he doesn’t think it’s beneath him, or he does and he’s doing it anyway, and it seems like either of those things would make for a worthwhile minute or two of coverage.
Certainly, part of it is just that the filmmakers are much more interested in the band/addiction part of the story than I was. I get pretty restless watching concert footage of a guy who’s obviously completely high just kind of yelling and lying down and freaking out while he talks in voiceover about being incredibly high all the time. It’s a well-worn rock and roll tale, and I’m not sure they get a significantly new angle on it.
The stuff I think is most effective and most unexpected is the stuff that happens after he gets off drugs and starts helping out people like Courtney Love (!). I really liked the story of his exit from that whole world and his later rebellion against some of the standard parts of the rehab industry, but that stuff goes by pretty quickly. Bahruth explained that she had some issues getting access to rehabs, including ones where he worked, and that presumably accounts for some of the things that aren’t here that you might expect to see.
As I said in response to the tweet from the movie’s feed, it’s not my movie to make, and what to leave out and what to put in are creative decisions that are for the relevant creative people to make. As a viewer, what was left out didn’t ruin the documentary, which has lots of worthwhile and often witty reflections and some great interviews (this is as pulled-together as you will ever, ever see Courtney Love). But there comes a point where what you leave out isn’t just something you leave out; it’s a statement. And this particular film raised some provocative questions for me about biographies made from a standpoint of admiration and the pieces of the story you might choose not to tell. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]