Last Days Here
Dir. Don Argott & Demian Fenton
Styles: documentary, musical
Others: Dragonslayer, Rock School, The Yellow Bittern
Links: Last Days Here - IFC Films
Directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton spent years visiting with Pentagram lead singer Robbie Liebling and his manager, Sean Pelletier, collecting the footage they needed to craft this impressively candid portrait of squandered talent and drugged-out self deception. Last Days Here comprehensively documents the progression of Liebling’s late-stage career as he meanders from cult metal washout to unlikely, yet still tragic, hero. It is unavoidably engrossing to watch as Liebling realizes what he wants, what actions to take to secure this desire, and all of the things he’ll most likely do to ensure he will never actually succeed. This succession provides the otherwise heartbreaking documentary with a refreshingly natural kind of suspense and tenuous hope.
When we first set eyes on Liebling, he’s living in his parents’ basement. Rail thin, covered in scabs, and sporting a set of eyes so sunken and weary that the mind reels envisioning what could have made them that way, Liebling is a total mess. Regularly abusing meth, crack cocaine, and heroin, he’s convinced himself that the sores he continually tears at are evidence of a parasitic condition that the doctors at the hospitals he constantly visits are ignoring because they want him dead. Almost nothing in the early part of this film softens this harshly-lit picture of a man so close to death and so thoroughly imbued with despair. However, once Pelletier (Liebling’s friend and stalwart manager) introduces us to the albums that Liebling made with his band Pentagram during the 1970s, things become more classically tragic.
We’re not merely witnessing the unraveling of a derelict throughout Last Days Here. Rather, we’re offered an uncomfortable stare-down with the slow and seemingly inevitable destruction of a person’s gift. Liebling’s parents are convinced that letting him stay with them and providing him with drugs aren’t forms of enablement. After all, they argue, if they didn’t give him drugs, he would just go out and get them on the street. The two caring parents display an astounding degree of cognitive dissonance, but one wonders how long they’ll keep up with this before their nearly 60-year-old son dies in their house.
As it becomes apparent that Liebling will most likely end up a corpse in his parents’ basement, he meets and starts a relationship with Hallie Miller, who is much younger than he. Like, a lot younger. Interviews with Hallie are eerily reminiscent of the interviews director Tristan Patterson conducted with the girlfriend of his young wasteoid subject, aspiring pro-skater Josh “Skreech” Sandoval in the documentary Dragonslayer (TMT Review). Each of these young women displays a subdued monotonicity in both the timbre and content of their conversations with the filmmakers when explaining why it is that they stay with such obviously self-destructive men.
Ultimately, Liebling serves as a poignant and devastating “after” to Sandoval’s more energetic “before:” a permanent adolescent demoralized by the muted palette of reality to such an extent that dealing with the too-long days has become crippling. But there’s also genuine hope in the film: even though Liebling is almost guaranteed to continue some of his destructive behavior patterns, he at least recognizes himself as he is a bit more than he did when Argott and Fenton started shooting. And that might be all he has, but it’s going to have to be enough. Kudos to the filmmakers for staying with him as long as they did. If they’d left him any earlier in his career, that flicker of hope would’ve been replaced by sheer dread.