Monday, June 27, 2011

LAST DAYS HERE


Don Argott and Demian Fenton, 2011

Usually I refuse to review things if I know people involved, but Last Days Here is just too good to neglect. Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, along with producer Sheena Joyce, the team that respectively directed and edited Rock School and 2009's acclaimed Art of the Steal. Last Days Here is a totally different kind of film than their previous work.

The documentary concerns the potential rebirth of forgotten metal singer Bobby Liebling of Pentagram. For non-metal-heads out there, Pentagram should have gone the way of Black Sabbath and probably would have if not for Bobby's extreme drug problems. The film starts with Sean "Pellet" Pelletier, a motivated music fan who unearthed some Pentagram records, fell in love, and was determined to bring their music to a new generation of fans. After forging a friendship with Bobby and getting some of their unreleased material on the market, the film is mostly concerned with Pellet's efforts to get Bobby on a reunion tour and back on his feet.

Bobby is a frustrating, but ultimately sympathetic figure who makes an incredible transformation. At the start of the film he looks about ninety years old, is covered with sores and openly smokes crack in the sub-basement apartment he lives in at his aged parents' house. But Pellet's loyal friendship and dedicated managerial role help him turn his life around. He gets off drugs, moves to Philadelphia, gets a new record deal and falls in love. That love becomes the new primary focus of his life and when it goes south, he completely falls apart. Can Pellet, who has now staked much of his personal life and money on the band, help him get it together before it's too late?

On the surface, Last Days Here seems like the kind of documentary that would only interest metal or Pentagram fans and, at least from a marketing stand point, that might be true. But the reason I'm reviewing the film at all is because I think it manages to push past any genre or thematic tropes and presents an incredible story about one man turning his life around against insurmountable odds. I've heard a couple of people mention that this is the documentary of the year and, though I don't watch a lot of them, I'm inclined to agree.

Where the film really succeeds is its choice of main character. Bobby, though fascinating, is too slippery and unreliable to really keep us with the story. Pellet's passion, kindness and absolute loyalty keep us going through out the film and provide much of the drama. Will Bobby let him down once and for all? Or will he reach a breaking point and simply give up?

The ending, which I'm not going to give away, is also very powerful. You would expect a documentary about a drug-addled rockstar to either end with his death by overdose or victory by reunion show. Fenton, Argott and Liebling take us somewhere unexpected, giving more than you ever would expect to get from a documentary about a forgotten rocker with a penchant for crack and a Peter Pan complex.

Last Days Here premiered at SXSW, but was recently purchased by IFC's Sundance Select label and should be out on DVD late this year. I had the good fortune to see it at the Brooklyn BAMfest screening last week. Keep your eyes peeled for the DVD. It comes highly recommended.

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