The latest documentary from Don Argott (Rock School, The Art of the Steal) and editor-turned-co-director Demian Fenton tells the tale of Bobby Liebling, lead singer of little-known (unless you’re a metalhead) doom metal band, Pentagram. Liebling has dedicated his life to sex, drugs, and rock’n roll, but his emphasis on the drugs has kept him mired in relative obscurity. The film is a chronicle of Liebling’s constant struggle with addiction and superfan/manager Sean “Pellet” Pelletier’s push to get him the recognition he believes Liebling deserves. Going from days spent with the crack-addled 53-year-old Liebling living in his parents “sub-basement” to the planning of a comeback show in New York City, Last Days Here is like a frustrating combination of a half-assed Intervention and a pre-success Behind the Music.
Before we learn about Liebling the fledgling rock star of the 70s, we meet Liebling the crack addict, living in his parents “sub-basement,” a sad wisp of a man, going through the outfits he was saving for the glory days that never came. We meet Pellet, the über-fan, learn about his discovering Pentagram–decades after the release of their debut album–and his immediate obsession. Then the filmmakers take us on a strange, muddled journey through Pellet’s struggle to get Liebling making music again, cutting back and forth between the history of Pentagram and Liebling’s rocky exodus from the “sub-basement” into the real world.
I found the telling of Pentagram’s history particularly mishandled. The film didn’t give me enough information about Liebling (or the band) for me to ever really be invested in anything that happens to him. Sure, he seems like a sweet guy, but all I see is an addict, constantly replacing one addiction with another. We see so little of Liebling’s “mystique,” that any mention of it comes off as hearsay. The awkward re-enactments only exacerbate things. And the surprisingly sparse smattering of Liebling’s music used in the film makes it unclear what’s so great about Pentagram. The music is good, but there isn’t enough of it front and center to really make a case for the idea that Pentagram would have been the next big thing. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “Bobby Liebling is great because we said so.”
So, with no real investment in Liebling and very little evidence of his former glory, it makes it difficult to understand Pellet’s blind devotion to the man and his music. Pellet walks a fine line between faith and delusion, either way it’s unwavering. When he is earnestly pitching Liebling his idea for getting a new record deal and Liebling takes a hit off his crack pipe, I just wanted to scream at both of them to snap out of it. I’m not sure that engaging the audience and aggravating the audience are synonymous.
Pellet and the filmmaker’s faith never won me over. Argott and Fenton never got me rooting for Liebling, instead they got me aggravated by his circle of enablers and leery of his future. The film made me interested in checking out Liebling’s music, if only to hear what exactly it is about Pentagram that made Pellet so obsessed. Whatever it is about Bobby Liebling’s music that speaks to people, it isn’t on the screen in Last Days Here; it’s just a bunch of talking heads trying to tell us how great it is, but it’s hard to rock out by proxy.