Friday, March 02, 2012

Last Days Here: Bobby Liebling, the Old Dude in his Parents’ Basement

For years, Bobby Liebling’s drug-wracked body should have been as dead as his career. Yet, he somehow maintained a pulse. With a devoted record collector spearheading a comeback attempt on his behalf, Liebling might finally amount to something, but his self-destructive impulses remain undiminished, as viewers see in agonizing detail throughout Don Argott & Demian Fenton’s documentary Last Days Here (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the IFC Center.

Liebling’s heavy metal band Pentagram was poised to make Black Sabbath look like the Partridge Family. Unfortunately, an ill-timed diva eruption from Liebling blew an in-the-bag major label contract offer. For really hardcore metal fans, Pentagram was the great 1970’s mystery band that almost but never was. Sean “Pellet” Pelletier knew them only from a rare indie LP and a demo bootleg, until he actually connected with the wizened Liebling, wasting away in his indulgent parents’ sub-basement.

Despite a history of epic failures, Pelletier is convinced Liebling can still fulfill his early promise. He just has to get him off crack and acting somewhat professionally. Right, good luck with that. Reminding audiences the word fan is derived from fanatic, Pelletier takes years off his life as he deals with Liebling’s self-defeating turmoil. In many ways, it is the earnest would be manager who becomes the protagonist of Days.

Though disturbingly voyeuristic, it is an eerily engrossing experience watching Liebling wallow in his karmic filth. The hardcore frontman did not just burn bridges, he razed the levees and washed out the roads leading to wherever he thought he was going. That morbid fascination is nothing like what you could consider a strong rooting interest. It is more like the worst sort of rubber-necking. Still, thanks to Pelletier’s tenacity, the possibility of redemption is always just over the horizon, allowing viewers to enjoy the bedlam with a reasonably clear conscience.

Argott (whose previous doc was the radically different Art of the Steal) and Fenton followed Liebling and Pelletier for what must have felt like forever, documenting every rise and fall of his revival wave. They capture a lot of human drama that one need not be a metalhead to appreciate. However, Pentagram’s music is not likely to win many converts amongst anyone not deeply steeped in the metal scene.

Any viewer remotely grounded in reality will shake their head repeatedly at Liebling’s chaos. It is definitely real unvarnished life unfolding on-screen, like a head-banging Grey Gardens. Recommended for snobby doc watchers looking to feed their superiority complexes and lowbrow reality TV fans alike, Last Days Here opens today (3/2) in New York at the IFC Center. It is an accomplishment in nonfiction filmmaking, but Argott’s Art of the Steal is a truly fascinating and important film. Those who missed it in theaters should make a priority of catching up with it on DVD.