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Pentagram : Last Days Here (Documentary Video)

Touching, illuminating and of special interest to Doom fans, this documentary on Pentagram's Bobby Liebling is essential viewing.

Rock in film is not exactly a great rarity, ranging from raw, self-documented tour footage edited into a DVD for the faithful to lavish biopic movies straight out of Hollywood. What is rare, though, is to find something like 'Last Days Here' - a professionally-shot and –produced documentary filmed over the course of several years, which can surely only be described as a labour of love.

Beginning in 2007, Don Argott and Demian Fenton (the team behind 'Rock School'), followed Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling through thick and thin: the result is an outstanding and compelling work of cinema that illuminates and also transcends the special interest of the Hard Rock/Doom Metal fanbase who might be considered the logical audience for such a film. Indeed, despite music being one of the central pillars of Liebling's life, and the only thing he ever wanted to do, it is used more to set the scene rather than form the thrust of the plot. The latter is much more of an exploration of human nature, faced with both dreams and failures.

The back story - as presented throughout the film via interviews with those involved, some original footage and a few authentic-looking recreations – is not an unfamiliar one: band with promise fails to deliver. A litter of missed opportunities, wilful awkwardness and self-destructive behaviour dogged Pentagram throughout their career. Too obscure to even be considered cult throughout the 70s, barely managing to release a couple of albums in the 80s in between band break-ups, they nonetheless managed to find a place in the ultimate Doom pantheon, and the 90s/early 2000s saw the release of several more albums and a host of compilations and re-releases. It still wasn't enough to prevent Liebling's spiralling continually downwards, mentally and physically, to the point where the film starts.

We find him there, aged 54 - but looking and behaving more like a 70-year-old with burgeoning dementia - and living a drug-addled, twilit existence in his parents' basement. Tellingly, one of his earliest comments, while showing the camera a bag of stage clothes, is "I was saving them for when I got big...and that never happened".*

There can surely have been no expectation on the part of the film-makers that this was ever going to change, despite the efforts of Liebling's friend and manager Sean "Pellet" Pelletier to get him just one more shot at rebuilding his career and life. The danger that they could end up simply exploiting the wreckage of a fellow human being's existence is evident throughout, yet their – and especially Pellet's – patience is rewarded in the end, as 2009 sees a triumphant return to the live stage for Pentagram, and 2010 brings marriage and a child on the way for Liebling.

Along the way, the care taken to present a balanced picture is exemplary, and unflinching. We see Liebling wasted on crack and at his neurotic, self-pitying worst, incapable of taking any responsibility for his own situation; we see his desperate neediness and utter reliance on other people; and we see him at his best, with charm, wry humour and generosity of spirit - as well as the driven, endless love of music that created his underground-legend status as a performer. It has an honesty about it that offers neither judgement nor manipulation: the viewer is free to find their own sympathies regarding Liebling and those around him.

And yet, regardless of those sympathies, it remains a story of extraordinary persistence and faith that manages to be both remarkable and heartwarming, without descending into an emotional slush. As the central focus, Liebling's struggle with his own demons is a fascinating portrait of both towering charisma and abject selfishness, allowing the viewer to understand why his remaining friends can stay so completely loyal to him, and why so many others have given up in utter despair. That it happens to also be the story of a Doom icon - and contains some fascinating, entertaining interviews with others associated with the Pentagram saga - makes it essential viewing, in my book.

* NB: For those steeped in the world of Doom, where Pentagram are simply one of the founding fathers, that may seem bizarre. However, according to this interview, the total official (SoundScan) album sales figure for Pentagram was a mere 28,000 between 1991 and 2011 – and probably about the same again in the preceding 20 years. Common estimates for total Black Sabbath album sales over the same 40 years are between 50 and 80 million. A sobering thought. Interview credit: Spin Network's David Marchese, 2011.

The film is available on DVD or can be streamed on rent or purchase at Vimeo.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Last Days Here (Video)

Duration : Approx. 91 minutes

Visit the Pentagram bandpage.

Reviewed on 2014-08-13 by Mike Liassides
Aesthetic Death
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