In 1984, at the height of the arena rock era of big hair, bigger egos, lots of sex and drugs and all sorts of debauchery, MTV held a contest promising a “Lost Weekend With Van Halen.” Over a million contestants submitted their entries via postcard in an attempt to win a chance to spend a weekend in Detroit partying with the band and their entourage during the band’s infamous 1984 Tour, singer David Lee Roth’s last (for a while at least).
Kurt Jefferis, a 20-year-old department store loading dock employee from Pennsylvania, mailed in more than 10 postcards and had one of them pulled from the lot to win the contest.
“You’ll have no idea where you are, you’ll have no idea where you’re going, and probably, no memory of it after you go,” Lee Roth claimed in the promo for the contest. A promise that lined up with the reputation of the band who laid the groundwork for other hard-partying hair bands from Poison to Mötley Crüe.
Well, DLR wasn’t quite right about lost memories as Jefferis and the buddy who accompanied him, Tom Winnick, actually remember a lot about their trip to Detroit Rock City. What they recall is a two-day binge featuring, among other X-rated happenings, Jack Daniels, beer, champagne, lobster, filet mignon, cocaine, a food fight and a groupie named Tammy.
The pair’s recollections, as well as many others, are captured in Lost Weekend, a new short documentary film from directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, A Life in Waves) which recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film weaves together clips of the band, interviews with Jefferis and Winnick, and plenty of archival footage from the weekend to create a visual time capsule which will likely evoke feelings of nostalgia whether or not you’re a fan of Van Halen or not.
That makes sense considering how the idea for the project came about Thomason and Whitcomb — neither of whom were actually huge Van Halen fans — tell InsideHook.
“Brett and I have always had a love for all things nostalgia,” Thomason says. “We grew up in the ’80s, so we have explored that in our previous films and this was really kind of born out of late-night watching YouTube clips of old MTV videos and stuff like that and just kind of having a wild idea. We saw the bumper for The Last Weekend trailer and it was like, ‘Well, let’s do a doc about that guy.’ It was kind of a joke and then I did more research and read a bit more his story thought, ‘Oh, this would actually make a good short doc’ so we pursued it.”
Keeping the film short (less than 15 minutes) was intentional and allowed them to capture a snapshot of Jefferis’ 15 minutes of fame as well as the period of time when it occurred.
“Even though we are predominantly feature documentary filmmakers, this one just seemed like a fun one to make,” Whitcomb says. “We’ve been to festivals where we’ve had really good experiences watching short documentaries and they have never left our minds. We kind of wanted to make something like that. Where people can have a good time in 15 minutes and then think back on and go ‘Oh, I remember that Van Halen documentary.’ It’s something short and entertaining. You can get in and out and have a good time.”
Despite the film’s reduced length, Thomason and Whitcomb didn’t have to leave much on the cutting room floor and found Jefferis and Winnick to be very forthcoming about everything that went down on April 5th and 6th in ’84.
“Kurt was much younger then so there were things that took place I think he was a little coy about with us but it ends up working out in the film because the viewers aren’t dumb,” Thomason says. “There are some things left to the imagination but I think we explored most of what happened and what they were open to discussing. I think it was a wild weekend, but not so wild that we couldn’t get those stories. It was kind of perfect. Today it would be a lot more sterile, obviously. But yeah, back then it was the wild weekend they promised.”
“It was almost on par with what MTV said they would be doing,” Whitcomb adds. “The experience MTV advertised was pretty much exactly the experience that they had.”
But probably not one MTV would be able of offer in a similar contest today.
“Bands partied differently back in the day than they do now,” Thomason points out. “And obviously that comes with some things that might be frowned upon or might be difficult to deal with today. With our guys Kurt and Tom, they were so young … It’s definitely not something that’s in the forefront of the film but we were definitely aware there would probably be people watching who have those thoughts and we definitely wouldn’t hide from that or anything.”