Anvil: The Story of Anvil Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Starring Robb Reiner, Steve “Lips” Kudlow
Release date: April 10, 2009 (limited)
Keep on pounding
Keep on pounding
Join the heavy metal fight
Ah, now that’s a mantra I can easily adopt.
Earlier this month, veteran metal band Anvil brought their heavy metal fight to New York City’s Blender Theater, where they played a short set of four songs in support of the film Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a documentary about the two founding members of the band and their decades-long struggle to recapture the glory of their early years in the 1980s.
Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008, the Anvil film has been a surprise hit with critics, nearly all of whom likened the documentary to director Rob Reiner’s 1984 musical mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. As with the fictional Spinal Tap, Anvil had their 15 minutes of fame back in the early 1980s — before bands like Metallica made their way to the top of the speed metal pile — then spent the subsequent years in obscurity with low record sales and poor concert attendance. Anvil director Sacha Gervasi (best known for his script for Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal) was smart to hone in on the similarities between the bands by showing us an amp that goes to 11 (plus, Anvil’s drummer’s name is Robb Reiner), because it gave viewers, most of whom never even heard of Anvil, a reference point. But while Spinal Tap kept us laughing with their stupidity and their attempts to constantly reinvent themselves with current music trends, Anvil tugs at our heartstrings by staying true to themselves and to their heavy metal roots.
Anvil! begins by showing us one of the band’s live performances in the early 1980s at a massive outdoor venue, where thousands of fans are headbanging to the band’s most popular tune “Metal On Metal.” We see right away that, yes, Anvil did have its day. This is backed up by testimonials from metal icons Slash, Lemmy, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Scott Ian of Anthrax, and Tom Araya of Slayer, who all cite Anvil as an early influence. While bands like Metallica were still in the garage, the Toronto-based Anvil was paving the way for future metals bands that would raise to a level of fame and fortune they’ve still yet to achieve. The strange thing is that no one seems to know why Anvil was left behind.
After the film’s opening, you might think you’re in for a film of concert montages and a barrage of heavy metal tunes you’ve never heard of, but you’d be wrong. We soon meet guitarist/singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, the two founding Anvil members now in their 50s and still determined to live out their dreams of rock stardom. We’re introduced to their families — wives, children, parents, siblings, all of whom provide unconditional moral support to them. But while, fortunately, their families believe in them, Lips and Robb know that Anvil doesn’t yield a financial return. Reiner is in construction, while Lips does deliveries for a catering company and though, yes, these jobs help pay the bills, they’re anything but gratifying — that’s where Anvil comes in.
Though Anvil hasn’t made any money from record sales — and they’ve been putting out albums all these years — or from their concerts — most of which they seem to not get paid for — the band is what keeps these men going in life; it’s what prevents them from offing themselves. It’s their love, their passion, and they vow to never give up on it. But how much time, money, and dedication can these two childhood friends with a dream continue to invest in a band that just can’t seem to “make it”? And would they truly be happy if they just gave it all up?
Presented in the wrong light, Anvil! could have been mistaken for a Spinal Tap-type spoof, but under Gervasi’s considerate direction, we’re presented with a touching, hopeful tale of friendship, dedication, and loyalty — and yes, some heavy metal pounding! Lips and Robb are so heartfelt and likable, you can’t help but root for them, even if heavy metal isn’t your bag. As the credits roll on Anvil!, you’ll be lamenting that this 75-minute documentary is too short and want to see more chronicles of Lips and Robb. Hopefully, this film will provide the push back into the limelight the band so desperately needs. If anything, I think VH-1 would be insane NOT to give Lips and Robb their own reality show.
Since its debut and positive reception at various film festivals, Anvil!: The Story of Anvil has been picked up by VH-1 for distribution and can now be seen in theaters in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Also, The Anvil Experience — the band plays a short set after a showing of the film — is still on tour, playing Philly tonight, and in Chicago and Detroit next week. I suggest you check out The Anvil Experience if you’re into metal or maybe remember the band from their early days; it’s a great way to see the film — the audience laughs, cries, and emotes at all the right moments — and the band is in top form for performing; plus, there’s a good chance you’ll get to meet the band, since they come out and hang out at the venue afterward. Check out anvilthemovie.com for more details.
Also, if you plan on going to a showing of the film tonight at Angelika in NYC, there’s a chance you can win a Sunday Brunch with Anvil.
My dear friend and fellow true metal warrior Zena Metal put up some video of Anvil’s post-screening live performance from the NYC Blender show of The Anvil Experience (check it out below).