(2008) dir. Sacha Gervasi
While many reviewers referred to Anvil! The Story of Anvil as a real life This is Spinal Tap (1984), and while there is a modicum of truth there, the story of the Canadian heavy metal band Anvil is really something much more substantial than just some cheap laughs at the lovable losers of “Rock”. I mean, the drummer’s name is Robb Reiner. There is a glimpse of an amplifier that goes to 11. There is lyrical content for “Thirteen” that is painfully laughable. And there is a moment where one of the guys admires the texture of a painting that he has of a piece of shit in a toiletbowl.
The lifespan of Anvil, thirty years plus, took them from the late 1970’s/early 1980’s as teenagers just looking to “rock” to their near height of success, admired by peers, playing big gigs in Japan. But then nothing ever really quite panned out. Twelve albums later, they are in their 50’s with no label, families, debts, and all but broken dreams. But that is the thing. Singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Reiner somehow have managed to continue their pursuit of the rock’n’roll dream despite everything. And they end up on a somewhat misbegotten European tour that ranges from some big festivals to tiny pubs who failed to advertise and fail to pay up. The non-glory reality of touring with no real manager.
They turn to an old friend/producer to help them record their 13th album. Which they can’t then find a label to take.
But really, the film is enriched not so much by their dream and their undying hope, but by Reiner and Kudlow’s time-spanning friendship. And the commitment and love and support of their families, wives, children, and siblings (one of Kudlow’s sisters puts up the money for the recording of their album). In fact, one of the film’s catch-phrases is “Family is important shit, man.” And ultimately, despite their thinning locks, aging selves, egos, and disappointments, they really are not bad guys.
You really wish they would succeed. Even though their material isn’t the best. They aren’t some lost gem of genius. They are just guys who have lived part of their dream and have continued to pursue it against numerous odds, challenges, set-backs, and losses. But the hope burns bright. And really, this movie may do for them what years of poor self-management, professional production, toil, and commitment could not. It may bring them to a broader audience who will root for them and want to see something positive happen to them.
But in the end, you have to wonder, if they are not somewhat better off for never having succeeded, crashed and burned in a public spotlight, turned to drugs and alcoholism. Or maybe they did and the movie skips that part of it. It was, I think, filmed by a former roadie. And it’s a good film. It’s sweet. It’s rock’n’roll, the reality of trying to make it, not the pseudo glory of success.
It would be an interesting pairing with DiG! (2004), as in a sense utter counterpoint, or even Air Guitar Nation (2006), another film about an absurd quest for glory. It’s not the laugh riot that I expected, but much sadder and heart-warming than I expected as well.