Last Days Here (Don Argott and Demian Fenton, 2011)
In the early seventies, Bobby Liebling was the lead vocalist for a band called Pentagram that you’ve probably never heard of. Pentagram were on the verge of stardom when, according to interview in the documentary Last Days Here, two incidents—one of them caused by Liebling, the other caused by two other band members—basically derailed their entire career, dooming them to lives of obscurity. Fast-forward to 2004. Bobby Liebling is a meth addict living in his parents’ basement in suburban Baltimore. In his late forties, Liebling looks at least thirty years older. He would probably have never been captured on film; indeed, he might well have died in obscurity were it not for Sean Pelletier, a record collector and Pentagram fan so obsessed with the band he contacted Liebling and offered to act as the band’s manager if Liebling could pull together members from some of the band’s classic lineups for a reunion, and as long as Liebling vowed to quit meth, as well as most of the other drugs he was using. Liebling agreed and started making calls, and Pelletier recruited Don Argott and Demian Fenton to film what Pelletier saw as Pentagram’s inevitable comeback and world domination. The result is the documentary you see before you.
As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. Saying you’re going to kick drugs and actually doing it are two entirely different things (says this former smoker). Liebling has moral support from his bandmates, his manager, the filmmakers, and new girlfriend Hallie, another longtime Pentagram fan who got in touch with Liebling (old enough to be her father); the two of them begin a relationship, but if you’ve ever done that dance with an addict, you know how rocky it is. Indirectly, as well, Liebling has the support of thousands of Pentagram fans who are pulling for the band, some of whom are bigger than Pentagram ever were; Phil Anselmo books Pentagram to open for Down at a show in New York, for example, and there’s some pre-show backstage footage of Down members telling Liebling how much his music meant to them as they were growing up, etc. Still, Liebling has a history of—to be generous—flaking out. Is a comeback possible when your lead singer is a nutcase?
I’ve seen a lot of rock docs over the past few years, and even more per year since subscribing to Netflix again. The best of them all share certain qualities. They illuminate something that isn’t entirely obscure, but has traditionally stayed out of the limelight for some reason or other. The filmmakers stay out of the way and let the subjects stand or fall on their own. Performance footage is included, but it feels natural rather than exploitative (or, worse, just there in order to attract fans of whatever it is the documentary is covering). The story itself is inherently interesting, not just to fans, but to a more general audience. Last Days Here qualifies in every regard. (I should point out, for trivia purposes if nothing else, that this was recommended to me by someone who directed another rock doc that fits, Stephen Petrus of City/Ruins: Art in the Face of Industrial Decay.) This is fine filmmaking indeed; well worth your time whether you’re a longtime fan or you’ve never heard of them. ****