Review: “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”

March 12, 2010

First of all, let me start off by apologizing profusely for the blog/post delay-been busy.  You know how it is.  However, this brief vacation has given me time to focus on my next post, which has been in the works for a few weeks now-fittingly, it’s a departure from the subject matter of my normal posts.

As some of you may know, I consider This Is Spinal Tap the funniest movie I’ve seen to date.  Modern-day laugh riots like The Hangover and the films of Judd Apatow will never truly hold a candle to the adventures of Spinal Tap, which is probably also due to both a nostalgic and personal connection-being a musician, it’s appealing, but also oddly familiar to watch the band get lost walking from the dressing room to the stage, or get second billing on a theme park marquee to a puppet show, or miscalculate prop measurements and find themselves stuck with an 18″ model of a Stonehenge-esque object.  Anyone who’s ever been in a band can more than likely relate to any number of the predicaments the band finds themselves in.

This is where Anvil! The Story of Anvil comes in.  It came as a surprise to me to learn that, in the early 1980s, Canadian metal band Anvil was right on the cusp of Bon Jovi/Metallica-level success, clearly exemplified in the opening segment, which shows the band rocking out at a massive rock festival overseas interspersed with footage of legends like Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Lemmy (Motorhead) and Slash (Guns ‘n Roses, Velvet Revolver) praising the group for their talent and high-energy stage presence.

From there, we cut to the present, where founding members Steve, “Lips, ” Kudlow (guitar/vocals) and drummer Robb Reiner (drums; coincidentally, he shares the same name as the director of This Is Spinal Tap, with one extra B in Rob) are working menial jobs while still trying to keep Anvil afloat.  Their greatest joy is playing during the weekends at venues like local sports bars, where their devoted fanbase has been continually showing up and supporting the band all these years.

Despite the obvious lack of mainstream success that has plagued the band since day one, Lips and Robb still hold firm to the belief that their moment of fame and fortune is right around the corner, even in spite of the fact that they’re well in their 50s and are playing an 80s style of music that has since been eclipsed by other genres too numerous to count.  Luckily,  a small light at the end of the tunnel appears in the form of a fan who books a European tour for the group, one that quickly shows signs of trouble through missed trains, non-existent pay from club owners and dismal attendance numbers (the scene at the Transylvania rock festival, where 174 people showed up in a 10,000 seat arena, is particularly hard to watch).

Eventually, the band decides to focus their efforts on recording a new album, one that could hopefully recapture the feeling of their classic record Metal on Metal, released at the pinnacle of their fame during the 80s and produced by Chris, “CT, ” Tsangarides, also known for his work with Judas Priest.  The band is soon able to reunite with CT, who agrees to produce the album but announces it’ll cost 13,000 pounds (roughly $20,000) to do so.

I’ll stop summarizing the movie here, because it’s at this point that some of the most touching and satisfying scenes are yet to come.  Scenes like Lips’ sister agreeing to loan the band the money necessary to make their record instantly grab at the heartstrings.  Scenes like the band discussing their financial hardships and trying to score a record deal will instantly make you realize that the world of rock ‘n roll may not be as glamorous as artists like U2 and the Rolling Stones make it out to be.  And the final scene, at a rock festival in Japan similar to the one they played at decades earlier (shown previously at the beginning of the film)…well, it just needs to be seen.

To see these two musicians still devoted, still so passionate towards their art after all these years and all their failures, is enough to make this movie one of my favorites.  Any musician with an overinflated ego who might complain about the brand of bottled water in their dressing room or the lighting in their stretch limo need only take one look at Anvil, who are merely happy playing music solely for the sake of playing music-anyone who’s been at it as many years as them clearly has more than just a passing interest in music.  As the film goes on, it becomes apparent that the success they’ve been craving starts to become replaced with stronger ties to family and friends, and a desire to simply produce the best music possible by whatever means, in whatever location, to whatever size crowd.

Rock on.

EDIT: I’m happy to report that the success of this documentary has given Anvil a second career, earning them slots opening for AC/DC and an appearance in the upcoming Seth Rogen film adaptation of The Green Hornet.  It’s apparent the band still has some life left in them-this is only the beginning.


One Response to “Review: “Anvil! The Story of Anvil””

  1. Richard Farvour Says:

    Kudos for a very well written review. And thnaks for a very enjoyable read. Keep up the great work!

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