Saturday, November 24, 2012

Overlooked Gems #47: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Grade: 82 (A-)

For every band that makes it huge, there’s about 1,000 that don’t. Take Anvil, for example. The Canadian metal band influenced virtually every major band on the thrash metal scene (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer), not to mention finding fans among Guns n’ Roses and Motorhead, but for whatever reason never managed to make a major mark for themselves outside of a tiny cult following. Not being a devoted heavy metal fan (in terms of heavier rock and roll, I prefer punk), I hadn’t heard of Anvil before the release of Sacha Gervasi’s documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, but the film makes a case for Anvil’s relevance even after their heyday.

Headed by singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (seriously), Anvil just can’t catch a break. It’s been over twenty years since they played major festivals alongside The Scorpions and Bon Jovi. Kudlow, Reiner, and the other bandmates now play tiny locations to dozens rather than thousands, work lousy day jobs in order to fund their heavy metal dreams, and deal with balancing time with their families and time on the road. The group manages to catch a number of breaks only to have them fall through- their European tour is poorly attended, their manager constantly screws up arrangements, they’re often not paid for their work, and the recording of their thirteenth album, This is Thirteen, is fraught with tension only to be turned down or ignored by major labels. But the members soldier on in spite of the odds. They love the music too much.

Anvil! has been described as a real-life This is Spinal Tap. There’s no doubt several similarities (lousy conditions, touring in obscurity, a show in Japan, a trip to Stonehenge), but it’s far too glib and easy a comparison to hold much water. Gervasi is a talented filmmaker, but he’s also a fan, and he doesn’t undersell the pain or the passion of the members of Anvil at any point. Sometimes his fandom is a bit too much- he doesn’t much explore why Anvil might not have made it big in the 80s- but the fact that he finds humor in their situation without mocking them is what counts. Above all else, Lips and Reiner are likable, downright nice guys just trying to do what they love for a living, and Anvil! is a frequently moving experience because it takes them seriously. The film wasn’t exactly a smash hit when it was released, but it was well-reviewed enough that Anvil has since seen a spike in popularity, opening for Saxon and AC/DC. If that doesn’t speak to the power of the movies, I don’t know what does. 

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