By Darren Johnson
Campus News and Nu2U.info
Welcome back to “It’s New to You!,” my irregular column on finding hidden movie and TV gems that may be a bit older, but, because you’ve likely never seen them before, they are, for all intents and purposes, “new” to you.
What I’m trying to convey is not just purely informational. Having an ethos of enjoying the obsolete or forgotten can be as much fun as getting the latest iPhone or whatever – and is much cheaper. That’s part of the fun of being a “new to you” type – finding hidden gems in the bargain bin. It’s a lifestyle.
That’s exactly the mentality Sean Pelletier shares in the excellent documentary “Last Days Here,” which recently hit Netflix.
Pelletier is a geeky guy with long hair who has a love for old vinyl records and spends his last dollars on rare finds in thrift stores and garage sales, going to and from them via his bike.
One day, he finds a 1985 self-titled LP from a band called Pentagram, gothic letters on a black background, and he rushes home to play it, only to fall in love with the quality of the recording. Why hadn’t anyone ever heard of this band?
The documentary shows us some brief demo sessions from Pentagram from the 1970s. Indeed, the band sounds very professional and the sound doesn’t seem dated. Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, “Last Days Here” would be better served by having more examples of the band’s music, as it’s doubtful more than one percent of viewers had ever heard of the band before seeing this film.
Pentagram would normally be considered early masters of the Doom Metal genre, except, despite their incredible talent, the band never got big enough to really influence anyone.
Wisely, “Last Days Here” follows Pelletier, the record nerd, and tells the story, a good deal, from his perspective. Pelletier may be the most reliable narrator in this piece.
After being wowed by the rare album, Pelletier does some investigative work and realizes that Pentagram’s front man, Bobby Liebling, lives nearby in Maryland. Pelletier goes for a visit. What he finds is a mid-50s man who looks like he is 100, strung out on crack and heroin, with festering wounds and weird phobias that he is infested with parasites, in the basement of his enabling parents’ home. Liebling’s eyes are bulging out of his head. His disheveled room looks like a hole to die in, and Liebling acts like a person on his death bed, thus the title of the film.
At one point in time, Pentagram could have been the next KISS, and now here is the heart and soul of the band looking like a corpse.
While Liebling is ultimately self-consumed and not the type of person to thank anyone, he most certainly owes Pelletier some thanks, as the guy believes so strongly in the power of the music that he helps Liebling get on his feet – even get out of the basement and live on his own. Pelletier helps get the band back together and performing small gigs, with fingers crossed that Liebling will show up.
The documentary is good at going back in time, too, and talking to former bigwigs in the record industry to confirm that Pentagram was close to signing a megadeal and could have become a serious band, but Liebling kept sabotaging that success because of his unpredictability. It’s an interesting character study, and, like how “The Great Gatsby” is told not from the eccentric Gatsby’s perspective but instead Nick Carraway’s, we get an angle that’s easier to relate to by allowing common-man Pelletier to tell a good part of the story.
Changing gears completely, sometimes a big blockbuster movie that got mondo media attention back in the day can still be “new to you.”
The most noted example is “Pulp Fiction.” Each year, Beloit College composes a popular list for professors everywhere to be mindful of which allusions they pick. A regular example is “Pulp Fiction.” Many professor-types came of age with that film; but, remember, the typical college freshman was just a tot when the film came out. Surely, their parents didn’t let them see it. Yes, it has been replayed on TV, but the movie is so bawdy, practically everything memorable about the film seems muted in between commercials for laundry soap and Mitsubishi.
As I’m a bit older than the typical freshman, a film that got a lot of buzz and likely my parents saw but I was way too young for at the time was 1972’s “Deliverance.” I ended up just catching that a few years ago, so it was “new to me.” (Perhaps the redneck rape scene in “Pulp Fiction” was so inspired by “Deliverance,” where Ned Beatty was made to “squeal like a pig.” Awful. And Beatty swears the film didn’t hurt his future acting opportunities.)
Another film that fits this theme is “Fatal Attraction,” which has gotten more buzz recently as a Director’s Cut has come out with the original, now-alternative ending (instead, the Glenn Close character, Alex, kills herself, but Dan (Michael Douglas) ends up charged with murder because his fingerprints were on the knife). Close has said she likes that ending better, but the ending was re-shot after test audiences panned it. Netflix has the 1987 official studio release on its service still, where, instead, Close is killed in a grand finale.
In 1987, while I did get the gist of the movie – a man has an affair with a woman who goes psycho – I was still in high school and too young to get the nuances of the film, being unmarried and pretty carefree. The characters are sophisticated, have high powered jobs and live in New York City. The film was more like a horror film to me, what with Alex slashing everything and boiling the pet rabbit of Dan’s kid.
The ending we all know, with a scene where Alex becomes a knife-wielding psychopath at the end – we think she’s drowned, only to rise out of the tub, to be shot unexpectedly by a third party, Dan’s dull wife who somehow suddenly has a gun – ends up being so recycled in later Hollywood films that watching the official version of “Fatal Attraction” in retrospect makes it seem formulaic, even though the film broke cinematic ground at the time.
Watching it many years later, as an adult, one sees this film with new eyes; and, indeed, Close’s character seems more three-dimensional (Close says the only villain she has ever played was Cruella DeVille). Perhaps Alex is a bit of a victim, too.
You can see the previously unreleased ending on YouTube by typing “Fatal Attraction Alternative Ending” in the search box. It may be more accurate – Close argues that a passive-aggressive psycho affair partner normally would not confront the wife, and she doesn’t in the YouTube ending – but it is a bit dull. In the popular ending, where Alex confronts the wife, cutting herself, and everyone else, one can’t look away from the screen.
Whether you have never seen this film, or haven’t seen it in decades, try queuing it up now. Even the gimmicky version we all know with the slasher ending may seem “new to you.” The movie may not have changed, but perhaps the lenses you watch it through have.