A distinctive, flamboyantly extroverted personality, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes traveled a long and challenging road from adolescence to stardom. She was probably the driving creative
force behind TLC, who gained international fame with hit songs like
“Waterfalls,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “What About Your Friends?” In the 1990s, the group would become one of the top-selling female R&B groups of
all time, but the whirlwind of fame was suffocating, and at the height
of her shared popularity, Lopes sought to escape the chaos and
regain control over her life. Talented and vibrant, but secretly troubled in ways that tabloid coverage of her more outlandish moments (in 1994 she set fire to the suburban Atlanta home of her on-again, off-again boyfriend, NFL wide receiver Andre Rison) only hinted at, Lopes was a star who
shined brightly before being extinguished in sudden, tragic fashion.
Originally produced for the VH1 Rock Docs franchise, Tupac: Resurrection director Lauren Lazin’s Last Days of Left Eye features archival footage of Lopes, her family and TLC, but is first and foremost a kind of zonked travelogue, built as it is around footage, much of it never-before-seen, from a self-shot documentary that Lopes was planning and filming in April 2002, the month before her death.
Having several years prior met the mysteriously monikered Dr. Sebi, a peddler of an all-liquid herbal cleansing diet, Lopes became infatuated with both his regimen and his homeland of Honduras, building a recreational center there for local children and engaging in other goodwill projects. Wanting to undergo some sort of fuzzily-defined spiritual enlightenment, Lopes decided to take an extended trip with a group of her cousins and other friends, decamping in rural Honduras for four weeks of pilates, talking, sipping of rancid “natural” concoctions, and introspection. Using a video camera and the encouragement of those closest to her, Lopes talked about her ups and downs, never knowing that these home movies would comprise her final audio-visual journals. Near the end of her stay, just before her 30th birthday, Lopes would be killed in a terrible auto accident; the seconds leading up to the event are captured with her own video camera.
Last Days of Left Eye bills itself as providing insight into the life of a musical superstar “who seemed to have regained a new spirit for life just as an untimely death took it away.” In reality, though, it’s a desperately mixed bag. There’s the obligatory hint of rock-doc, detailing TLC’s 2.3 million-selling 1992 debut, subsequent financial struggles (in hilarious and yet clear-eyed fashion Lopes breaks off some great math on the specifics of record label deals), and personality clashes resulting from Lopes’ increasingly erratic behavior. The much more interesting portions, though, actually recall Shooting Sizemore, the brief-lived VH1 series in which actor Tom Sizemore’s stab at recovery was intercut with darkly fascinating paranoid ruminations that he had self-recorded at various points over the previous years.
When Lopes, perhaps undiagnosed as bi-polar, is talking about “Nikki,” her drunken persona, or showcasing the inch-tall scar on her arm that reads “Hate,” carved there after Rison failed to visit her as much as she would have liked in rehab, one gets a sense of the very deep reservoir of pain in this girl. Likewise, in eerie fashion, the week leading up to Lopes’ death finds her convinced that an evil spirit is stalking her. Her fears are reinforced when a young boy runs out in front of a car in which she is traveling, and is fatally wounded; she thinks the spirit was coming for her, and simply “missed.” Delving into some of these rants and/or beliefs, either with family or psychologists, would have been illuminating, but this is a non-fiction project of simple presentation, not investigation. No great sin, really, but that limits Last Days of Left Eye‘s appeal — which Lazin litters with interstitial cards both platitudinal and speculative (“During yoga, Lisa digs deeper…”), and never quite finds a smooth tone of interweaved intrigue — mainly to those that already know her, and her troubled story, quite well.
Last Days of Left Eye comes housed in a regular Amray case with yellow-spined slipcover art, adorned by the above photo on the cover. It’s a full-frame presentation, and the stereo audio track more than adequately handles the meager aural demands of the program. When source audio gets a bit potentially fuzzy, and even when it’s just captured at a low level, subtitles are provided to aid the viewer. Bonus material consists of deleted scenes from Lopes’ source tapes, and an exclusive new unreleased song, “Let’s Just Do It,” that’s available via DVD-ROM, and touted as being part of a forthcoming Lopes album, consisting of material she recorded prior to her death. To purchase the movie on DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Movie) C+ (Disc)