Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)

Canadian heavy metal band Anvil has been hammering out albums for nearly thirty years. They were a key influence on Metallica and Anthrax, among others, yet the band never achieved the same levels of popularity or financial success.

In the documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL director and former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi follows the group as they take a break from their day jobs to embark on a European club tour and record their thirteenth album.

As childhood friends lead singer and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner formed Anvil in 1978. Despite years of professional disappointments and setbacks, they continue to hold onto the belief that their break may just be around the corner. While they look like (and are) middle-aged men, on the inside they're still teenagers in the garage creating rock masterpieces that the whole world will hear and love someday.

Such Pollyanna-ish confidence sets up the band for the contemptuous laughter of audiences, yet Gervasi's pure love of and respect for Anvil dampens the hoots. An affectionate portrait rather than a sad, derisive takedown, ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL finds inspiration in the passion and tenacity these aging metalheads display.

Regardless of what one thinks about Anvil's brand of rock, Kudlow and Reiner are to be admired for remaining hopeful after banging their heads against the industry's walls for so long. They understand that a breakthrough may never happen, but setbacks and failures can't keep them from doing what they love.

This pie in the sky optimism gives the film a heartwarming side, but it also is employed for comedic effect, naturally. Gervasi models his rockumentary on the mockumentary THIS IS SPINAL TAP and emphasizes Anvil's similarities to their fictional counterparts.

Anvil plays songs with ridiculous sexual lyrics, gets lost on the way to a club in the Czech Republic, and has an amplifier with a setting that goes to eleven. They even visit Stonehenge. Short of opening for a puppet show, Anvil's experiences couldn't overlap more with those of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel.

Yet one reason why SPINAL TAP remains extraordinarily popular among musicians is that they can relate to the misadventures. Drawing comparisons between Anvil and their unlucky fictional counterpart isn't a slap in the face but an acknowledgement of how dead on SPINAL TAP is regarding the rock and roll lifestyle.

In a good-humored way ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL laughs at the indignities the band is dealt while pounding a path they hope leads to career validation but more often than not guides them into more dead ends. The funny thing is that the documentary proves that their efforts have been worthwhile even if Anvil's rewards haven't been manifested in riches and fame.

Grade: B

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