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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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