SXSW 2011 Review: Last Days Here
Last Days Here, a documentary film directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, follows Bobby Liebling, the troubled front man of Pentagram, as he battles with addiction, loneliness – as well as professional and romantic heartbreak.
The early introduction to Bobby – living in the basement of his elderly parent’s home, crack-addicted and broke – is extremely grim. In spite of having very caring parents, his living conditions are abysmal and his decades-long substance abuse problems have left him on the verge of death. It is a very intimate and uncomfortable glimpse at addiction – not only for the apparent toll it has taken on Bobby Liebling’s health, but also for the way in which it has affected his family, his present and former bandmates and his friend and manager, Sean “Pellet” Pelletier.
Pellet, a Pentagram fan, has worked tirelessly to revive Bobby’s career as well as preserve what remains of his musical recordings. For those unfamiliar with Pentagram (as I was), the hard-core metal band has a significant cult following – though they have never achieved commercial success. Pellets’ interviews in the film provide background information and insight about the band’s struggles – many of which could be attributed to Liebling’s drug addiction – and witnessing his relationship with Bobby himself is particularly gut-wrenching at times. Their friendship is genuine and mutually kind-hearted, which make Pellet’s efforts to save Bobby from destroying himself – as well as Bobby’s regret over his self-sabotaging behavior – both heartbreaking and frustrating.
Anyone who has witnessed a friend or loved one struggle with substance abuse knows that no matter how desperately you may want to help that person, the addict has to be the one to help themselves for it to really stick. Of course, that knowledge doesn’t make the situation less painful or easy to accept and Liebling’s parents address accusations of being enablers of Bobby’s addiction by wondering aloud, ‘if it was your child, what would you do?’. At one point in the film, Pellet expresses relief when he learns that Bobby has gone to prison for violating a restraining order because he knows that for that short duration of time Bobby won’t be able to smoke crack or injure himself. It’s a very telling moment and to the point – Bobby seems like a sinking ship which could take the people who care about him most down with him.
Bobby Liebling’s struggles are very real and at times extremely difficult to watch. Last Days Here could have easily turned into an exploitative piece about his self-destruction, but the film is imbued with compassion and – mercifully – a sense of humor which serve to remind you that you are watching a person who is hurting. To do so without also being condescending is no easy feat, and the film makers do a fine job of telling a compelling story without dehumanizing or disrespecting their subjects. To reveal more about the outcome of Bobby Liebling’s journey would be a disservice to the film, but I can say that I was very moved by the experience of watching it – and I came away with a new respect for death metal.