Anvil: The Story of Anvil
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At 14, Toronto school friends Steve Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner made a pact to rock together forever. They meant it. Their band, Anvil, went on the become the demigods of Canadian metal, releasing one of the heaviest albums in metal history, 1982s Metal on Metal. The album influenced a musical generation, including Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, that went on to sell millions of records. But Anvils career took a different path]straight to obscurity. Director Sacha Gervasi has concocted a wonderful and often hilarious account of Anvils last-ditch quest for elusive fame and fortune. His ingenious filmmaking may first lead you to think this is a mockumentary, but it isnt. Its fascinating to see the reality of their day-to-day lives as they struggle to make ends meet, take a misguided European tour, and engage in antics on the road-which is not always lined with fans.
Is Anvil the real Spinal Tap? That's a label that could be applied to any number of hapless hard rock bands, but there's enough evidence in Anvil: The Story of Anvil to suggest that these guys may have, uh, tapped into the motherlode. The parallels are many, including getting lost on the way to a gig, playing before 174 people in a 10,000 capacity venue (in Transylvania, yet), inept management, ridiculous songs (even Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins couldn't match "Thumb Hang," an Anvil tune about the Spanish Inquisition)… heck, they even visit (the real) Stonehenge. But dig deeper and you'll find some real heart in this 2007 documentary. Two hearts, actually--the ones belonging to singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (remove one "b" and you've got the director of This Is Spinal Tap). These two were there when the Canadian metal band formed in the early '80s and went on to share festival stages with the likes of Bon Jovi and Whitesnake. Now, a quarter century later (a new bassist and guitarist joined in the '90s), Reiner and Kudlow are in their fifties, living in Toronto with wives, kids, and menial jobs. But they still haven't given up their undying belief that with a new album (their thirteenth) and couple of breaks, they will be rock stars.
It doesn't happen on a mostly disastrous European tour organized by a well-meaning but inexperienced fan. It doesn't happen when they reunite with British producer Chris Tsangarides (Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy) but find little interest in the new recording. But Kudlow, despite some bleak moments, is remarkably resilient (of the tour, he says, "Things went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for them to go wrong on"). And while it's a sad truth that Anvil just isn't that good--they're nowhere near the level of some of the bands they inspired, like Anthrax and Metallica--only the hardest of heart will resist rooting for them. Bonus material includes deleted scenes and commentary by director (and former roadie) Sacha Gervasi. --Sam Graham
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The guys are likeable, the story too often familiar. You root for the underdog, and these guys got the faces of underdogs. One of my ongoing fascinations spinoffs from addictive record collecting (thank the Almighty for thrift shops!) is researching the fringe carnival barker 4th tier show business characters ("ex-rockers") who grind out a living raging against evil rock music in small churches, with slide shows, laying out folding tables full of fringe fundie Christian DVDs (er, VHS) eyeball punishing documentaries, and lots and lots of things that look like books, calling upon teenagers and their panicking parents to renounce the "rock lifestyle." Frankly, THE STORY OF ANVIL here and a 1987 film about Los Angeles 3rd-rate "hair bands," THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, THE METAL YEARS, would be far, far more effective discouraging guitar slinger get rich wannabees than HELLS BELLS. Taking a close look at ...ANVIL, the Toronto band's 1982-84 experience seems very much like a Los Angeles heavy metal defunct band, Odin, featured in THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, THE METAL YEARS.
Most eye-opening moments in THE STORY OF ANVIL center around the minivan trunk marketing shots of Lips loading up boxes of vanity private press THIS IS THIRTEEN albums (cardboard crates of maybe 1000-1500 CDs?), attempting to get the last ditch record deal locally at EMI, and the end credits' followup stating that Anvil got paid off by the Czech bar owner for 100 Euros (about $130 bucks?) after the gig and yelling match being paid in noodles.
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Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal
Not that I remember them that much... I can recall somebody taping me some songs from Metal on Metal (their supposed masterpiece) around 1985 and always fast forwarding the cassette when they came up. They weren't really that bad, they just sounded lame, like some lesser talented Manowar with boring songs and no charisma. My best guess is that back in the day, some people outside Canada listened to them simply because they weren't that many bands to choose from, and that their rapid slide into irrelevance was more a consequence of their lack of talent rather than management and record label woes.
The movie makes a big deal about how important they were in shaping the early sound of thrash metal, but really, I don't see how this band could've influenced Metallica, Anthrax or anyone for that matter. While Venom, Diamond Head, Motörhead, Raven and Exciter had a seminal role bridging the NWOBHM with early thrash, Anvil was just a standard radio metal band that couldn't write good singles.
Now, don't get me wrong. I do admire these guys, but not because of their musical legacy, and being a guy who quit his own band at 26 and music altogether at 30 because juggling between two careers was too hard, I can't feel nothing but respect for this duo.
The Story of Anvil struck a chord on a lot of people because it's not really about an unsuccessful, over the hill heavy metal band: it's a testimony to friendship, never giving up on your dreams and the power music has on people.
Back when I saw this movie in 2010, I was so moved by it that I bought Metal on Metal and Forged in Fire. Sadly, both albums confirmed me, at 38, what I already knew at 12: this band's just not that good, or even mildly interesting.
That said, this documentary manages to be both a fun ride and an incredible study on human nature that any music lover will doubtlessly enjoy... and will be Anvil's ultimate legacy.
Notable DVD Extras:
Aside from a rather uninteresting commentary track, there are three enlightening deleted scenes. The first one features extra footage of Lips working as a caterer, the second, the story of Lips' older brother's medical problems, and the third, short "where are they now" style interviews with two original members who left the band in 1989. It's quite easy to see why said scenes were left in the cutting room floor: had the first two been included, the film's tone would've turned up too depressing, and the third one, while informative, would've hindered the documentary's narrative pace.
As a middle-aged metalhead, I was already familiar with their music from the early 80s. Like the rest of the world, I was surprised to find that they never went away and were still recording albums, going on tours, with the dream that this would be the one that would hit the big time.
Watching Lips and Robb talk about their 30 years together and their dream of being rock stas was amazing. How two people can have such perpetual optimism and hope is baffling. To hear Lips say that everything went wrong on a tour, but at least there was a tour for them to go wrong on... now that's refreshing and inspirational. In a time when people focus on the negatives all too much, he found ways to focus on the positive. And against all odds, Anvil has finally made it.
You can't help but root for these guys when you're watching the movie. And if you really want to enhance the experience, read the book, too. You won't believe what these guys have been through over the years.
So the next time you think you've got it tough and can't keep going, think about Lips and Robb. They are two amazing guys.