[Note: Last Days Here previously opened in New York on March 2nd. I’m reviewing it now in anticipation of the film’s LA premiere Friday night at Cinefamily on Fairfax, just up the street from Canter’s Delicatessen, home of the best corned beef reuben in Los Angeles. Filmmaker Don Argott and his producer Sheena Joyce will introduce the 8pm Friday show along with their subject Bobby Liebling. All three will participate in a post-screening Q&A. Don and Sheena will also be back for another Q&A on Saturday.]

I have to admit, a documentary about a 50-something heavy metal burnout living in his parents’ basement smoking crack doesn’t have a lot of upfront appeal for me. I’d never heard of Bobby Liebling or his band Pentagram, once hailed as the “street” Black Sabbath – sort of a rock and roll bridge between Led Zeppelin and The Sex Pistols – and the odds are good that you haven’t either. Nevertheless, I trusted directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton (The Art of the Steal) to show me something worth seeing and I’m glad I did. Though Last Days Here will have extra appeal for fans of Pentagram’s dark, heavy brand of doom metal, the unlikely story of Bobby Liebling’s final chance at redemption elevates it to something much more profound, moving and universal. It’s a story that will appeal to anyone who has ever pursued a dream.

That’s not to say it’s always an easy ride. When we first meet Liebling, he looks like he’s on the verge of death. Addled by crack and holed up in his parents’ basement, his head banging has been replaced by a kind of Parkinsonian twitch. Convinced he’s infected by a mysterious subcutaneous parasite, his bandaged hands have been scrubbed raw. His days consist of sleeping, eating the food his loving mother prepares for him and watching television. His story becomes even more frustrating when you discover that he really was a once-promising talent, but that his own personal demons and immaturity short circuited each one of the many shots he and his band had at greater success. Pentagram once drew the interest of the band Kiss, but Liebling blew the opportunity to perform for them. Later they were discovered by an enthusiastic music producer at Columbia and given a demo, but again Liebling proved difficult to work with and the pros gave up on him. At a certain point you start to lose sympathy for the guy.

Enter heavy metal fan-turned-manager Sean Pelletier. Sean discovered Pentagram while pouring through the stacks of a used record shop and instantly fell in love with what he heard. This was the source, the Holy Grail, of all the music that he loved and he set out to find out if the members of the band were still around. Eventually he tracked down Liebling, the train wreck that was once Pentagram’s demonically charismatic front man. Undaunted by Liebling’s appearance Sean set out to help him get his act together, to get him off drugs and to use what connections he had in the business to jumpstart what he envisioned as a Pentagram reunion, even getting back together the other disgruntled and scattered members of Pentagram. Motivated entirely by his love of the music and a need to introduce that music to as many people as possible, Pelletier became Liebling’s savior.

In the early going, Pelletier moves the story forward and keeps it fascinating even as Liebling’s condition seems to get worse. You might not care about Liebling at this point, but Pelletier’s passion, dedication and determination are both fascinating and enormously appealing. Even as Liebling finally seems to be getting his act together, it’s the pure joy and the hope that it gives Pelletier that really moves you. Eventually, the do or die moment comes for both men. Can Bobby Liebling put it all together and deliver before a room full of rabid, expectant heavy metal fans after all these years or will he once again disappoint everyone the same way he had so many times before?

More than just a story of heavy metal history and more than just a freak show, Last Days Here is about the drive to create. It’s about musical expression and the impact it has on the people who are in love with it. It’s about redemption and it’s about what can happen when one person takes an interest and commits himself to the possibilities out of pure love, even when he knows the likely outcome will either be all or nothing with the odds definitely favoring the latter.

For more check out the LiC interview with directors Demian Fenton and Don Argott here.

2 Responses to “Last Days Here (2012)”

  1. Aye, “the drive to create” is what would ultimately trump the aversion of this kind of material. Like you the description of this would turn me looking the other way, but your stellar clarification and appreciation makes for a sturdy selling point I must say.

  2. There’s definitely a really good story here regardless of how one feels about the music or even the guy. For a while it doesn’t seem worth the effort, but the impact of Liebling’s ups and downs on Pelletier is ultimately very moving and very human.

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