Though it wouldn’t necessarily be fair to label Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s latest film “Last Days Here” as a bookend to their wonderfully inspiring 2005 doc “Rock School,” there are definitely parallels between the two. Covering both ends of rock ‘n’ roll spectrum, the latter featured pre-teens picking up guitars and discovering the joys of Black Sabbath while the former depicts the painful descent of Bobby Liebling, the lead singer of the heavy metal band Pentagram who looks like death when we first meet him after drugs, alcohol and a host of bad decisions have left him in his parents’ basement with little hope for recovery at the age of 54.
Liebling’s story certainly isn’t how all rock star stories turn out, but it’s also not exactly atypical, which is why “Last Days Here” would appear to be a more nuanced episode of “Behind the Music” at first, except for the fact that Liebling’s journey probably wouldn’t immediately warrant much interest amongst the mainstream since the singer was too self-destructive to ever allow Pentagram to break through to a mass audience and he is far too gone to speak for himself. Yet Fenton (an editor on Argott’s previous project who gets a co-directing credit here) and Argott spent six years waiting for the story to reveal itself and that patience has been rewarded with a tale that’s sad, sometimes frustrating and ultimately triumphant.
Commitment runs throughout those closest to Bobby since it has to- Diane and Joe Liebling, his parents who look spry in comparison to their son, bring him fig newtons on their couch without complaint, and Sean “Pellet” Pelletier, a metal fan who compares meeting Liebling to “being a devout Christian and you bump into Jesus,” has kept the flame alive for one of his favorite bands by putting out compilation albums and steadily urging Bobby to clean up his act so he can get back in front of the mic. This is, despite the fact, as one interview subject puts it concisely, “Everybody who helps [Bobby] gets crapped on,” but even in his frail condition, each of them can somehow see the promise he had a young man when his trembling body was a result of some powerful pipes as opposed to a drug-induced symptom.
But then a funny thing on the way down Bobby’s downward spiral when he meets Hallie, a young fan from Philadelphia who, like many others in her generation rediscovered Pentagram in the early aughts when doom metal made a comeback with acts like Queen of the Stone Age, and somehow allows Bobby into her life. A May-December romance ensues, one that Hallie insists isn’t about money since “Bobby has none,” and it’s at this point that “Last Days Here” becomes something special as it separates itself from the tragic narratives of most rock docs or even the ones that have a happy ending.
“Last Days Here” could involve both of those things, but it never tips its hand and asks its audience to care for a central figure who is thoroughly unsympathetic because of what others see in him. As has usually been the case in Argott and Fenton’s work to date, it’s their ability to bring the stories out of the supporting characters, like the infectious passion of Pelletier, that make the film worthwhile, even as everyone on screen seems to more or less accept that Bobby is a lost cause. But “Last Days Here” isn’t weighed down by history, or much of anything for that matter as it uses a traditionally straightforward, slightly shaggy narrative to tell of Liebling’s rise and fall. Instead, it’s always looking forward as one strange turn in Liebling’s life after he meets Hallie begets another until ultimately, the film does reach a more traditional “will he or won’t he perform?” climax before surprising the audience one last time.
It would’ve been enough for “Last Days Here” to reintroduce Pentagram into the cultural lexicon since, in fact, their music is worthy of rediscovery, but the film goes far beyond that. As Pelletier remarks late in the picture, “Anything bad Bobby Liebling will do for his heart, he’ll do it – love, drugs, bacon pizza.” Seeing his story is good for everybody else’s.
“Last Days Here” plays once more on March 18th and currently does not have U.S. distribution.