Thursday, March 1, 2012

LAST DAYS HERE: Don Argott & Demian Fenton's look at a legendary Pentagramer

Most documentary buffs who saw Don Argott's earlier THE ART OF THE STEAL, I suspect, would stand in line to view whatever new this guy has delivered. That documentary -- LAST DAYS HERE -- is now upon us, and though it's a far cry from his art/museum/politics doc, it's every bit as worth seeing: surprising, almost shockingly personal, humane, creepy, moving, funny and, awww... sweet. It tells the story of Bobby Liebling, lead singer of the heavy metal underground rock group Pentagram, legendary now as much for what it didn't do as for what it did. (Liebling single-handedly screwed up a record contract that would have put the group permanently on the map.)

TrustMovies is no heavy metal fan, but he admits that, by hearing Liebling both in his (rather desiccated) salad days and now, he began to understand the allure of heavy metal a bit better than in any of his previous attempts. Liebling's clearly got talent. According to the two directors -- Argott (shown at left) and Demian Fenton, (shown below), both of whom are themselves metal musicians, when the opportunity arose to shoot some film of Liebling, they jumped at the chance.

What came from the first encounter turned into a kind of love story once removed, in which the filmmakers stay with their subject through thick, thin and nearly gone. Considering the film's title (it comes from one of the many songs that Liebling wrote and performs in the course of the documentary), you might expect the very worst, and while the film comes close to this at times, let's just say that -- unless you have followed Mr. Liebling (below) and Pentagram extremely closely over the past few years -- you will be very surprised at the outcome here.

This is such a moving and personal film that, at times, you'll want to look away in embarrassment: for Liebling, his parents, the whole shebang. But you won't because Argott and Fenton glue you to the screen. How do they achieve this? Beyond their innate talent for capturing the moment (or editing down to it), I think it's due to the simple act of caring a lot for their subject. This comes through so strongly that is cannot help but be passed on to the audience.

For someone this strung out on drugs over so many years (at right is Pentagram back in 1976, with Liebling shown second from left), help -- let alone a "cure" -- would seem to be unlikely, if not impos-sible. Never a "pretty boy" in his best times, today Liebling's prominent features have become even odder and more pronounced. When we first meet Bobby, he's as strung out as ever, so he seems more a figure of jest (and not a little sadness) than anything else. Slowly, as the filmmakers show us more and more about him and his mom and dad, we warm up despite ourselves. Toward the end there is an absolutely heartbreaking moment provided by the musician's father.

As they say, the devil is in the details (and so, it would seem here, are the angels of our better nature). To tell many of these details would be to rob the movie of its effectiveness, and so I will just advise you to see it. And hear it. The music, in its heavy-handed/
heavy metal manner, soars.

Certainly the best music documentary since last year's amazing Anvil, Last Days Here (91 minutes, from Sundance Selects) opens tomorrow, Friday, March 2, in New York City at the IFC Center and on March 16, in the L.A. area at Laemmle's Monica 4-plex. And starting March 16, it will be available On Demand. Click here to learn how to get it via VOD.

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