Anvil! The Story of Anvil (VH1 Classic, NR)

anvil.jpgDirector Sacha Gervasi respects the men’s refusal to give up on their dreams, without presenting a sugar-coated view of their lives as aging rockers. Music is a tough business at any age, the road can wear anyone down, and neither can be any easier from the far side of 50.

 

 

Anvil has the hair, they have the attitude, they have the sound, they have the black leather bondage gear—but they never reached the level of superstardom enjoyed by contemporary metal bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Perhaps because their greatest dreams remain unfulfilled, band founders Steve "Lips" Kudlow (vocals, lead guitar) and Robb Reiner (drums) have never quite been able to set the 1980’s aside and get on with the 21st century.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil chronicles the band from the early years (beginning with some priceless Canadian television clips) to the present, with particular emphasis on the relationship between Kudlow and Reiner, which often resembles that of an old married couple who quarrel fiercely yet always make up in the end. Interviews with their more successful contemporaries have the tone of retired baseball stars discussing the phenom who seemed to have everything yet could never pull it all together. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to give Kudlow and Reiner credit for holding fast to their dreams of superstardom (and their honesty in acknowledging that they need the adrenalin rush of performing before a live audience) or to tell them that it’s time to grow up.

Anvil! definitely takes the former route. Director Sacha Gervasi (a British fan who served as a roadie for several Anvil tours in the 1980’s) respects the men’s refusal to give up on their dreams, without presenting a sugar-coated view of their lives as aging rockers. Music is a tough business at any age, the road can wear anyone down, and neither can be any easier from the far side of 50. Fortunately, both have understanding wives and children as well as day jobs which apparently allow them to take off for weeks at a time (Kudlow works in catering, Reiner in construction). No doubt it also helps be born in a civilized country (Canada) in which health insurance is a right of citizenship. Ultimately Gervasi wins me over to his, and Anvil’s, point of view: since you only get one life, you’d better spend it doing what you love. If that is performing rock music, then better to be on the tour from hell than to be at home working in an office or driving a truck.

It certainly helps that Gervasi has a sense of humor, whose first expression is the film’s title: much of Anvil! is so tongue-in-cheek that it’s impossible to take the whole enterprise entirely seriously. This attitude is encouraged by the fact that the band’s adventures often resemble a real-life version of This is Spinal Tap. And the music and stage antics of the band could awaken the ironist in even the most ardent fan: it’s hard to not get the giggles while watching grown men flopping their luxurious locks in rhythm and cavorting with sex toys.

At times the whole film feels like a series of good news-bad news jokes. Good news: the band is booked on a 40-day European tour. Bad news: you’ll miss a lot of trains and ultimately won’t make a cent. Good news: you won a judgment against the club owner which refused to pay you. Bad news: the total of the judgment is 100 Euros. Good news: Chris Tsangarides, legendary producer of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, wants to record your album. Bad news: you have to finance it yourself, and no major record label wants to carry it.

Gervasi wisely ends Anvil! on an upbeat note. Good news: the band is booked to play a major festival in Tokyo. Bad news: they’re the opening act, scheduled to start at 11:30 am. Heavy metal in the morning just doesn’t seem right. But there’s a final good news: the hall is packed at that ungodly hour and we’re left with the image of Anvil on stage doing their thing, perhaps a bit bloody but still unbowed, to an arena full of screaming Japanese teenagers. | Sarah Boslaugh

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