Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009) dir. Sacha Gervasi
Heavy Metal is perhaps the most fascinating of music genres to explore on film. Like the horror genre in cinema, metalheads are unquestionably the most rabid fans of their own music. Certifiably uncool, unsophisticated, but immersive and a way of life for its fans. This is what drives Steve 'Lips' Kudlow and Robb Reiner, the two longstanding members of the Canadian-based has-been 80’s band Anvil. Charting the career dive of the once great band through 30 years of dingy rock'n'roll horror stories culminates in a remarkably poignant commentary on the dedication of artists to their art.
Gervasi is careful to open up with a group of Metal heavyweights, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Slash, Slayer's Tom Araya, Motörhead's Lemmy singing the praises of Anvil and their influence on the great metal movement of the 80’s. We learn about their legendary performance at a 1984 Tokyo Concert to 60,000 kids, the height of their career. But while Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and other bands grew to become superstars, the boys from Anvil somehow got left behind, for reasons which Lemmy assumes is that they just weren’t at the right place at the right time.
Gervasi cuts sharply to present day when we see the two leaders of the group Robb and Lips squeaking out a living in labour intensive working class jobs while still grinding it out trying to make it big decades later. Overtop of their aged faces is their unaltered 80’s style of feathered long hair and concert t’s. If they weren’t so hardworking, honest and dedicated to their passion it would be pathetic.
“Anvil” plays like a real live version of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”, at heart a character study of passionate artists left behind by their fellow contemporaries, but who kept working despite going lower and lower down on the industry radar.
And like Randy the Ram we so desperately want to see Robb and Lips succeed and cash in their hard work. Were teased with the possibility as in the opening they embark on a European tour spearheaded by a Czech fan whom they’ve never met. Sadly the promises made of sold out arenas turn into embrarassing basement shows for audiences of as little as a dozen. And when they return home, they're smacked with a healthy dose of reality as Lips goes back to making deliveries to pay the bills.
In the last few years we’ve seen “Metal: A Headbangers Journey”, “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”, and “Global Metal”, all exploring the reach and personal influence of the music on various people. “Anvil” might just be the best of the bunch. Gervasi’s adherence to traditional fly-on-the-wall filmmaking as opposed to narration-heavy storytelling allows the audience to soak in the emotions of the characters and situations without being told what’s happening.
The internal and external conflicts which arise from Robb and Lips’ struggle for fame and acceptance are boldly exposed on screen with no inhibition – a testament to the trust Gervasi earns from the band. 30 years later with the success of the film at Sundance, SXSW and now it's theatrical release Anvil has finally made it. And it couldn't have happened to better, more honest and down to earth guys.