Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Starring Steve “Lips” Kudlow,
Robb Reiner, Chris Tsangarides
and Lars Ulrich
Goes well with: This is Spinal Tap, American Movie, Hoop Dreams
There's no shortage of movies that implore you to reach for your dreams. Most of them are fictional, and, let's face it, most of them are bullshit. Because in real life, talent is no predictor of success. Not everyone wins American Idol. Nice guys often finish last. Most of us don't get to sign the standard rich-and-famous contract.
But a dauntingly high failure-to-success ratio isn't enough to keep most people from at least giving it a shot. And though success has long eluded the protagonists in Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the awesome new documentary from Sacha Gervasi, their dedication to their music and their band makes for the most inspiring movie you'll come across this year.
For those who didn't grow up watching Headbanger's Ball or attending Monsters of Rock stadium shows, Anvil was an early-'80s metal act that influenced many bands that went on to become huge. Guys like Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Slash from Guns ‘N Roses and Lemmy from Motorhead all appear as talking heads to explain Anvil's significance, especially with their single “Metal on Metal,” which brought the band a bit of international fame and got them some big gigs. Those interviews, which kick off the movie, are interspersed with early footage of Anvil playing a massive Japanese rock show in 1984, fronted by Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who's wearing bondage gear, strumming his axe with a dildo and having the greatest time of his life.
The other bands that were on that bill, like Scorpions, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, sold millions upon millions of records. Anvil? Um, nope.
Fast forward to Toronto, 25 years later. Today. Yes, the band is still together. Lips and his childhood friend, skin-beater Robb Reiner, still consider Anvil their primary vocation. Yeah, they still rock 'n' roll all night, but they can't party every day, because the mortgage must be paid. Both dudes have wives and kids and dismal day jobs. Lips delivers meals to schools. Robb has some kind of horrible demolition gig. They have become long-haired old guys sporting fanny packs. But, most importantly, they're still dreaming the dream.
Director Gervasi was a roadie for the band way back in the '80s, so he's got history with them. Perhaps that's why they let him into every aspect of their lives, no matter how demeaning or humiliating it might seem. European tours that become financial disasters? Check. Awkward meetings with A&R guys? Check. Family members on camera saying they should hang up the spiked leather jocks? Check. Playing gigs in empty clubs? Check. It's all there, and at times it's harsh and uncomfortable.
But Gervasi also captures the essence of these guys, who are more like siblings or an old married couple than bandmates. Lips is the sunniest headbanger you'll ever meet, and even at 50, he has the same childlike optimism he must have had at 15. He's a sensitive creature, ruled by his emotions, a guy whose feelings are easily bruised but who bounces back like, well, a rock star. This is the sort of dude who plays an all-night set at his own birthday party, where the guitar-shaped cake reads “Happy Fuckin' 50.” Sure, they've been counted out for more than two decades, but Anvil still rides the lightning. They still travel on the crazy train, bark at the moon, run with the devil, ride the highway to hell and are powerslaves to the music. You get the idea.
It doesn't matter if you're not a metal fan. You feel immediate affection for Lips and Robb, and you desperately wish for them to succeed. But will it happen? Only if we all buy some of their music. And after you see the movie, you might want to.
But regardless, there's no stopping Anvil. The metal is in their blood. It might seem tragic that they've struggled to triumph for so many years, but by the time the movie ends, you know that the real tragedy would be if the music ever stopped.