LAST DAYS HERE (Don Argott and Demian Fenton, US, 2012, 91 mins.)
Sundance Selects / IFC
Liebling (German for "Darling")
Last Days Here joins the ranks of documentaries about artists who've kept the dream alive against all odds. Depending on your point of view, that makes Bobby Liebling, lead singer for Pentagram, an admirable figure or a delusional one. It's also a cautionary tale about a rocker who never picked up a second trade—you too could end up in the family basement, subsisting on Fig Newtons and crack.
Author Ian Christie (Sound of the Beast) describes Pentagram's music as "harrowing and bone-chilling," while BÖC producer Murray Krugman feels that the Virginia quartet provided the missing link between heavy metal and punk rock, like a "street Black Sabbath," but their flirtations with the big boys—KISS, Columbia Records, etc.—always fell flat. Sometimes they were to blame, sometimes not.
At the film's outset, the rail-thin, grey-haired, crazy-eyed Liebling appears to be nearing the end of the line. If you thought Ozzy looked wobbly, you haven't seen what 53-year-old Liebling looked like in 2007 (the film ends in 2010). Though he dresses like a young man in jeans and hard-rock t-shirts, there's clearly something wrong with him. His drawn face and twisted mouth could only be the result of long-term drug use or chronic illness—more likely a combination of the two.
Bobby proceeds to acknowledge 44 years of substance abuse; 39 addicted to heroin. Bandages cover his arms and his hands bear puncture wounds. Accused of enabling their son, Diane and Joe Liebling, a former White House security adviser, believe in his talent, but worry that his best days are behind him. Despite evidence to the contrary, Bobby's manager, Sean "Pellet" Pelletier, who released two collections of Pentagram material, refuses to write him off as a lost cause.
Sundance Selects / IFC
Photo by C. Davidson (Liebling to the left)
Pellet believes Bobby has one record left, and he wants it to receive a proper release. While he negotiates a contract with Pantera's Phil Anselmo*, Bobby goes to detox, and events take a surprising turn: he meets a beautiful young woman, falls in love, and moves to Philadelphia (at which point, the filmmakers abandon the record-making storyline in favor of Bobby's misadventures in domesticity).
If it seems too good to be true, it is, and his circumstances change again. And again. Says Pellet, "Anything that is bad for his heart, he'll do it: love, drugs, bacon" (Liebling has a thing for bacon pizza). Until Bobby met Hallie, I didn't think this film could get more depressing, and it doesn't, but Last Days Here will try even the more hardened metal heads. I've seen a few scary movies in my time, but even David Cronenberg would recoil at the sight of his un-bandaged arms.
A lot of recent music docs have taken on subjects who've persevered through adversity, and co-directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton (Rock School) don't break the mold, but they do depict a version of bottom that puts most others to shame (in that sense, it's more like Brother's Keeper). If it wasn't for his parents, Liebling wouldn't still be alive, and the film ends on a high that justifies their support and that of Pellet, the best friend a guy like Bobby could ever have.
* Anselmo runs Housecore Records; I found no evidence that this alignment came to fruition.
Last Days Here plays the Grand Illusion through Thursday, 6/21. The theater is located at 1403 NE 50th St. in the U District. In an interview with Christopher Campbell, Argott talked about his next project: "We’re working with this heavy metal band called Lamb of God. They’re embarking on a world tour that we're documenting. The film is less about the band and more about their fans around the world. Places including more troubled spots like Israel and India and Mexico. We're in the early stages of shooting, but we’re really excited about it."