LITTLE ROCK Harrowing and at times quite funny, Last Days Here is the latest and maybe the best in what seems to have become a trend - documentaries about obscure rock bands who somehow have maintained a small but devoted following despite their failure to make much of an impression beyond their cult.
The seminal example of this burgeoning mini-genre is Anvil!: The Story of Anvil, an empathic 2009 documentary that portrayed the members of a mediocre Canadian heavy metal band as heroic survivors. And while Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010) took on a much more celebrated and successful band, it had the same supportive air and sweetness. So does Last Days Here, though its prime subject, Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling, at first seems like neither a likable character or an encouraging candidate for rehabilitation.
I imagine there are quite a few members of my generation who vaguely remember his doom metal band Pentagram, which was sort of a heavier, American version of Black Sabbath. I’m not sure I ever really listened to them myself, although I had a friend, an aspiring heavy metalist, who raved about their underground tapes. Even in the late 1970s, they’d been around awhile - though according to their extensive (and obviously fan-curated) Wikipedia page, they didn’t get around to releasing their first album until 1985.
It seems they were sabotaged by bad timing and the erratic behavior of Liebling, who was their lead singer and only constant member. Now 58, Liebling is a wild haired wraith with substance abuse and emotional issues, estranged from his former bandmates and indulged by his elderly parents. Early on in the proceedings, co-director Demian Fenton asks if he has ever done anything besides rock ’n’ roll.
“Nothing,” Liebling mumbles, as he slumps on a couch in his parents’ sub-basement and drags on a crack pipe. He thinks. “Yeah,” he says, motioning with the pipe. “This. Drugs.”
Fenton and co-director Don Argott, who’ve worked together on the documentaries Rock School (2005) and The Art of the Steal (2009), are also musicians who play together in metal band Serpent Throne. Fenton, in particular, is a Pentagram fan and it may have well been a kind of morbid curiosity that led the filmmakers to Liebling’s underground lair. They might have thought they were chronicling the last days of a burned-out would-be rock star.
Strung out on crack and heroin and scratching at imaginary bugs crawling over his leathery skin, Liebling certainly looks the part. Yet as wasted as he is, he tells the directors, “If you guys want me around, I’ll stick around.”
And, remarkably, he does, taking one last shot at getting his career on track, with the help of fan turned manager Sean “Pellet” Pelletier, who seems a genuinely kind soul deeply interested in seeing his idol finally get his due. The film tracks three years in Liebling’s life, as he attempts to rebuild his life and get back in the spotlight.
While the film is remarkably light on Pentagram music, and we’re not really able to judge whether Liebling’s voice is still the instrument it was in Pentagram’s heyday, Last Days Here is a humane look at a very flawed yet striving man - and the selfless fan who finds him heroic.
Last Days Here 88 Cast: Documentary, with Bobby Liebling, Sean Pelletier Directors: Don Argott, Demian Fenton Rating: Not rated Running time: 92 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 05/18/2012
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