Anvil: The Story Of Anvil
- Running time
- 81 min
- Sacha Gervasi
- OFLC rating
- DVD Release
- 17 March 2010
SOME rock bands fly high, burn bright and crash early, like the Beatles. Others just keep touring and toiling to make a living, like the immortal Status Quo. Most just die quietly, as musical tastes move on.
Then there is Anvil, a Canadian heavy metal outfit that is undead, like Nosferatu. They come out at night to play in dark, fetid places on the edge of forgotten towns in the Canadian vastness. Like Toronto. They used to be big; it's the venues that got small, as Norma Desmond might have said if she had liked a bit of thrash.
Someone has recognised the heroism of that kind of commitment. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a fabulous documentary tribute to the musical indomitability of Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, founders of the band. They met as teenagers and have been musical brothers ever since, through thick and a lot of thin.
"I started out with Robb when I was 14 years old and he said, 'We're gonna do this till we're old men' . . . And we really mean that," says Lips, with emotion, towards the end of the film.
You have to love that spirit: Peter Pan is alive and well in these two fiftysomething rockers.
Anvil were huge in 1984. The film opens with them playing like demons before an enormous arena crowd, all hair and skin and S&M leather harnesses.
Heavy metal god Lars Ulrich from Metallica talks about how influential they were. "These guys were gonna turn the metal world upside down," he says.
Slash from Guns N' Roses remembers their "amazing" live performances. Lips was famous for playing his guitar with a dildo. There's a still photo of him standing naked in a doorway, guitar hanging in one hand, a big cheesy grin on his face. Reiner had a reputation as the greatest metal drummer in the world.
Cut to the present and Lips works as a driver for a catering company in Toronto. Reiner is getting therapy and taking medication. The other original members have quit but the reconstituted band still performs in those dismal little clubs for an ageing fan base; some of whom are "originals" – as in they have followed the band since its birth in 1978.
Kudlow never stops believing the big break will come, as they work on songs for their 13th album. "I look at life like it can never get worse than it is but if it did get worse, when all is said and done, I can say everything was said and done."
Both men have long-suffering families and wives who work to keep things going. "He's given up a lot," says one. "Like what?" asks the filmmaker. "Well, making money. He's given that up."
Thank God for northern Europe, where they still love metal. A young wannabe promoter, Tiziana Arrigoni, sets up a five-week tour, the biggest they've had in decades. It starts well, with a big metal festival in Sweden. They catch up with a lot of old friends, some of whom still have a memory. Lips and Robb look a whole lot healthier than a lot of the guys who had more success. Not that they want to.
By the end of the tour, they're back playing for two or three people and having fights with club owners who refuse to pay them. Robb says he can sum up their problems in three words: "We haven't got good management."
The astonishing thing about the film is that even with the hilarity of such moments, where they are so close to Spinal Tap it's spooky, the film is never mean. Kudlow and Reiner are faintly ridiculous but they know it. They don't care: success can return any time but not to those who give up.
On a whim, Lips sends a tape of the new songs to a big-time metal producer they once worked with in Britain. Chris Tsangarides calls back. He likes their new stuff. Tells them to come on over and they'll make the 13th album. After borrowing enough money to pay him, they're off to his home studio on the wild English coast, recording songs and threatening to kill each other, just like old times. Tsangarides has a sense of humour: the dials on his gear really do go up to 11, as Nigel Tufnel said in This Is Spinal Tap.
The reason it works is that the director, Sacha Gervasi, is a bona fide fan. At 16, he went to their first London gig and met them backstage. They got on so well he joined them as a roadie on an American tour. Gervasi went on to become a screenwriter. Spielberg directed his script, The Terminal. Anvil is his first film as director and it's successful because he brings both sides – the screenwriter's nose for a scene and the fan's love of his heroes. He doesn't condescend but he does see the humour and pathos.
The biggest irony is that success has reared its head again because of the film. Anvil are selling records, doing TV shows, touring and wailing. Let's hope the dildo stays holstered, although I doubt it will.