The subject of “Last Days Here” is an indisputable drug addict, body warped and brain fried by incalculable amounts of crack and heroin. During the opening moments (an excellent sequence which sets up a great deal without feeling at all expository) the man reveals a few fancy shirts he had stored away, flamboyant digs reserved for those stadium concerts his band never actually got to play. “I saved these shirts for when I would get big. And that never happened. So I just saved them forever,” he admits not depressingly, but in a poetic, accepting way. His concessible nature takes a much more uncomfortable route once he basically announces his indifference to death, promising only to remain alive for the filmmakers’ sake. “I’m serious,” he claims with utter sincerity, “if you want me around, I’ll stick around.” Unflinchingly honest, Don Argott and Demian Fenton‘s (“The Art Of The Steal“) documentary explores the same has-been-but-almost-was hard rock/metal band topic that “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil” did, only this time it’s not comparable to a real-life “This Is Spinal Tap.” “Last Days Here” is a much darker look at an extremely gifted musician, a moribund dude given one last shot at redemption. These kind of stories are easy to come by in cinema (and even easier to get behind), but this one digs deeper than most, exposing an ugly reality — one so seemingly futile that even the smallest victories throughout feel genuine rather than the work of clever filmmakers exploiting their subject for audience affection.
Bobby Liebling is the frontman for the Black Sabbath-esque rock band Pentagram, a group that was always on the cusp of some great success but frequently halted by a combination of bad luck and destructive drug habits. The directors manage their time between the present (following the burnt-out Liebling as he is pushed towards sobriety and a comeback) while also detailing the past through former members. Generally, the Argott/Demian duo refrain from asking the rocker about his take on these stories, a decision that does the movie well: instead of varying takes of previous incidents (ala “Rashomon”) involving bitter resentment towards the past or petty excuses for mistakes made, the two allow him to soldier on in the present, rarely bringing up the band’s history. It’s also helps transform what could be a pathetic figure into a tragic one, with the path of salvation lying straight ahead.
Remaining members look back without acridity, recounting the tales with a light, shit-happens attitude. In the early years, Pentagram managed to nab the time of rock super heroes KISS (specifically Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley) for a basement performance, but ultimately blew any chance they had thanks to a mix of band members arriving late and an irate landlord. Later, their sound impressed producers Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman, overseers for a handful of Blue Oyster Cult gold-albums and most recently parodied for their cow-bell enthusiasm. Krugman delineates their dedication to the band, a sentiment unfortunately squashed after an ego-fueled argument erupted between them and Liebling. Going forward, the band went through numerous lineups and failed revivals (referenced are two accounts in which Bobby was too wasted to play a show, one where he almost died), not to mention recording a few half-finished albums, ones eventually completed with inclusions of previously unreleased material. Now, super-fan/manager Sean “Pellet” Pelletier attempts to sway the bug-eyed rockstar away from drugs and out of his parents’ basement to focus on achieving the stardom that his talent deserves.
Aside from Bobby being a mesmerizing subject, it also helps that Pentagram actually rips pretty hard. Thanks to the popularity of bands like Queens of the Stone Age, there’s a huge demand for that 70s rock sound, something that Liebling’s band — who never really made it out of that decade — could absolutely deliver. Interviewees speak highly of the band’s music (including his parents, not hard rock connoisseurs but people who have every right to be unsupportive at this point), but the filmmakers make sure to spread a potpourri of tracks throughout the film to let the music speak for itself. If this film doesn’t make you want to dive headfirst into their discography, then you’re too old.
To attest to the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction,” midway through the film, the rocker somehow charms the pants off of a mid-20s Philly chick named Hallie, swiftly dropping his vices and moving in with her. He cleans up well, looking less like a corpse and more like a weathered Frank Zappa. This commitment to love has its fair share of hurdles, creating a more grounded element we can all relate to (with of course the difference here being the impending danger of a relapse). The goals of doing Pentagram proper and sustaining a grounded relationship intertwine, providing the movie with even stronger stakes, rewards, and consequences. Now despite the redemptive premise of the story, the film never hints at what is to come, giving the entire piece a mystery to it. Unlike Anvil, who were certainly going to come out on top (relatively speaking), our subject here looks like he could drop dead at any moment — it’s an uncertainty that can be felt, and it gives ‘Last Days’ a compelling, unpredictable nature.
Yes, a brief gaze at the band’s Wikipedia page will efficiently summarize all that the movie accounts (plus go a little further), but you won’t get the captured moments of humanity, nor the touching story of perseverance. This writer has no idea if, at this time, Bobby Liebling has relapsed completely or not. Hopefully he hasn’t. But the story told within “Last Days Here” is too engrossing and beautiful on its own to be discredited with a lousy Googled paragraph or belittled by a future mistake.
It’s easy to look away and deem the man a lost cause, but the devotion that everyone shows for him (both behind and in front of the camera) is so intense that it’s impossible not to feel the same way. With their simple style and sincere perspective, Argott and Demian manage to craft a redemption movie that surprisingly doesn’t feel by-the-numbers, a difficult feat that even seasoned non-fiction filmmakers consistently fall into. [A-]