DID YOU READ

Heavy talk with the directors of “Last Days Here”

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“There are tons of people who enjoy rock and roll. Bobby is rock and roll.”

That’s co-director Demian Fenton on Bobby Liebling, the subject of his new documentary “Last Days Here.” Liebling is the lead singer of Pentagram, a heavy metal band from Maryland that has become one of the genre’s biggest cult legends despite myriad lineup changes, tragedies, and false starts. For a variety of reasons explored in the film, Pentagram never made it big, but that hasn’t stopped Liebling from clinging to his rock and roll dreams. To Liebling, music is “beyond enjoyment,” says Fenton. “It’s beyond even adopting a few things as a lifestyle. It’s synonymous with him. That comes with all the trappings.”

The trappings, in this case, means drugs; as Fenton and co-director Don Argott (“The Art of the Steal,” “Rock School”) find Liebling at the start of the film, he’s middle-aged, living in his parents’ basement, smoking crack. His friend, fan, and part-time manager Sean “Pellet” Pelletier thinks Bobby has one more good record in him, but from the looks of Argott and Fenton’s footage, Liebling would be lucky if he has one more good week of life left in him. Scratching at hideous sores on his arms (which he claims are actually parasites), Liebling looks hours away from death. “Last Days Here,” indeed.

Improbably, Liebling begins to get his life back on track. With Pellet’s help, he revives Pentagram and himself; Argott and Fenton tag along for what becomes a surprisingly inspirational journey. The day after the Academy Awards, I spoke with Argott and Fenton over the phone about how they found Bobby’s story, whether they were ever worried it could end prematurely (not to mention tragically), and had them pick their favorite Pentagram song.

Did you guys watch the Oscars last night?

Don Argott: I just watched the documentary category.

Is the documentary category fixable? Are these new rules going to help or will it be a sticking point forever?

DA: It’s just an honor to be nominated. Which we’ve never been. [laughs]

It’s a weird thing. Somebody asked me about that a couple weeks ago, and I was like, you know what? We need to be plugging the Cinema Eye Honors; things that are more documentary-focused and friendly. Those are the really cool things, those are really your peers. The documentary category at the Oscars is obviously a huge honor but documentaries are never going to be elevated to the level that anybody wants them to be at that event.

Were you guys both familiar with Bobby’s music? How did you start shooting a documentary about him?

Demian Fenton: I love old ’70s rock. If you start to dig into old, obscure rock stuff, one of the first bands you find is Pentagram. Then you start to hear all these crazy stories about their lead singer, Bobby Liebling: that he lives in his parents’ basement, that maybe he died onstage, that he might be losing his arms, that they might need to be amputated because of heroin abuse. So I’d always heard about Bobby.

Then I was introduced to Pellet — he’s a longtime Philadelphia metalhead guy, so we were at a show together and we started gabbing about a potential project. We were pretty loaded and I don’t think he thought I was really serious about it, but I was.

DA: [laughs]

Those first scenes of Bobby, where he’s strung out, desperately picking through his couch cushions for crack, are really harrowing. What were you guys thinking as you were sitting there shooting those moments?

DA: After Dem had come in after that weekend and said “I met this guy and there’s this great potential documentary here with this crazy dude and his music,” what we did — what we do all the time when we’re feeling out stories — is do some exploratory shooting. So we drove down to Georgetown, Maryland together, and that first scene in the film is literally the first day that we were there.

It was a pretty intense day. Dem and I have listened to metal our whole lives, but we’ve never gotten mixed up in any serious drugs or anything like that. I’d never been around anyone while they smoked crack before. You’re trying not to pass judgment, but at a certain point you look around the room and see where you’re at and go “What the fuck are we doing here?” I think the one thing we all recognized though, was that we had found not only a potentially amazing personality in Bobby, but somebody who was as raw and as unfiltered as you can get. Sometimes you never get that no matter how much time you spend with a subject. And here we were, we showed up with a camera and day one it was like full-on “This is me, warts and all, take it or leave it.” It was pretty intense.

DF: As hammered as Bobby was on that first day, when he started talking about music you could see a light in his eye. It brought him energy. And I think that was a little hook to keep us interested.

It does seem entirely plausible watching those scenes, though, that Bobby could have died at any moment. Did you guys ever discuss what you would do if that actually happened?

DA: I’m not sure it was ever overtly discussed but it was certainly there. You’re right; that was Bobby’s reality. At any point, the story could change.

DF: We didn’t really talk about Bobby dying per se, except in the sense that we did talk about the stakes in the movie, and the stakes for Bobby weren’t really reclaiming or gaining fame, they were trying to live. Those were his stakes.

That flows nicely into my next question. Bobby’s life has so many incredible twists. How many times did your own conception of what you were making change as a result?

DA: The original idea for the film was Pellet trying to get Bobby to make one last record. So it would have been a very predictable narrative with a goal and a person trying to carry that goal out. That was what we set out to document; clearly, what happened in the film was something else. But we still needed something to hinge it on; we couldn’t just make a movie about a guy sitting in a room smoking crack. And when we found that Bobby’s goals were really about trying to live again… that goal is infinitely more interesting and powerful than somebody trying to make another record. For us, that’s where the turning point was.

DF: That’s a big thing about Bobby’s life: at that point, it could change on a dime. It could go from something completely mundane, like 3 months in a basement doing nothing, to something completely amazing. In our minds, we were always thinking where the film was going to go, but with Bobby’s life you never knew. So many times we had these plans in our head and on notecards of where we were headed, but instead it went to a place none of us could have predicted. If you had written where this film goes in a fiction script, they would send it back for revisions because it’s too crazy.

The stories about Bobby as a young man often involve his perfectionism in the studio — or his being a control freak, if you’re feeling less generous about it. Did he ever treat you guys that way? Was he ever a control freak as a subject?

DF: He was like any other subject of a documentary would be. And I salute him for trusting us, especially early on, during such devastating times. Still, when it comes to talking music, and you get his record collection out and you want to try to debate something with him, there’s no having it. When you think about it, most people grow up and grow out of sitting in their room and throwing records on. But Bobby hasn’t. You pull out a Wishbone Ash record, he’ll know every song on the B-side in order, his favorite parts, everything. It’s pretty amazing. So he’s not too malleable when it comes to music. But he stayed away from coaching us when it came to the film.

Watching Bobby’s story, it does resemble other rock and roll stories in some ways, particularly in terms of the drugs. I found myself wondering why the rock star life so often ends up in substance abuse and even madness. Do you think rock and roll attracts people who are predisposed to those sorts of issues, or is that life so insane that it transforms ordinary people into somewhat unbalanced people?

DA: When you think about music, and specifically heavy music, you’re basically starting with people that feel like — and probably are — outsiders. I can certainly speak for myself, but my story’s the same as any other disaffected young teenager. When you hear that first Black Sabbath record, it hits you a certain way. You get kind of indoctrinated into this weird club.

DF: You’re not the same anymore.

DA: You’re not the same, and all of a sudden you share a ton of interests with a group of millions of people that you never met and might never meet. It’s this feeling of being an outsider, feeling like the world around you doesn’t make any sense. This music is the one thing those people gravitate to.

You’re dealing with guys who don’t fit into the norm. The type of people metal brings together are the kinds of people who have screwed up family lives or see the world differently than the way you’re “supposed” to see it. A lot of these guys in heavy metal bands started when they were 16, 17 years old. If they were lucky enough to make it, they haven’t done anything other than that. You find yourself in this weird world — which is certainly not where Bobby was — of rock and roll excess.

What’s the best Pentagram song?

DA: I like a song that’s not in the film, a song called “Be Forewarned.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcORVns5lJY

DF: That’s a tough one. For me, I love “First Daze Here.” The whole record. Every song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjhZxW0sBn0

“Last Days Here” opens in limited release on Friday. If you see it, tell us what you think — leave a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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