Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blogorium Review: Anvil - The Story of Anvil

I feel bad for Anvil. Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner were in a metal band that influenced just about all of the early 80s groups I listen to (like Slayer or Ride the Lightning-era Metallica), and yet until the documentary, the Cap'n (like many others) had never heard of Anvil. It turns out that's a damn shame, and the result is a compelling, if disheartening documentary about not knowing when to move on.

Not that it seems to be Anvil's fault; most of the talking heads early in the documentary - including Slash, Lars Ulrich, Tom Araya and Lemmy Kilmeister - lament the fact that Anvil never were as huge as the bands that followed them. Slash points out that what probably happened was "we all ripped off Anvil and left them for dead." Except Anvil didn't die.

Sure, all of the original members but two peeled off, but Lips and Robb continue to rock when they aren't at their day jobs. Being Anvil, despite the devoted fanbase, doesn't pay the bills, so Lips works for a children's food catering service, and Reiner works construction (I think - the movie isn't too clear about that). Their families wonder aloud when "enough is enough", and they'll finally give up on the dream of making it big in their fifties.

But Lips just won't give up. He's an eternal optimist, convinced that no matter how shitty things get, Anvil is just one break away from finally making it. But boy, do things get shitty. Anvil is booked dates all over Europe, sometimes to sold out crowds, sometimes to (literally) six people. Their manager, the new guitarist's girlfriend, is incapable of doing right by the band: they miss trains, get lost, aren't paid for shows, and have terrible advertising. She's trying, and the guys seem to understand that, but watching Anvil on tour is like a real-life This is Spinal Tap.

Worse still are the metal festivals Anvil goes to, where it's painfully obvious that most of their contemporaries have no idea who Lips is or why they should. Kudlow bops around like a starstruck fanboy, but the best he can get is a "remember when" from one of the members of Twisted Sister. From the footage earlier in the film, you can tell that once upon a time, Anvil was a band to be reckoned with, but now they can barely get members of Vanilla Fudge to recognize them.

It hurts to watch this movie, because everyone except Kudlow and Reiner believe firmly that Anvil's days are done. Even a loan from Kudlow's sister to help pay for their thirteenth studio album (with the same producer from 25 years ago) is more of a gesture of pity than a belief that "this time will be their big break." Their boundless optimism in the face of totally embarrassing and repeated failures only makes it worse.

Still, Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a very well put together documentary. Director Sacha Gervasi is a long time fan of the band and clearly wants the best for them, even as things collapse over and over. VH1 Films, who footed the bill for Anvil, has been behind a pretty serious marketing push to get Anvil their due, so the sad story may have a happy ending yet.

As awkwardly funny and unbelievably sorry things get, I have to say that Anvil: The Story of Anvil, is absolutely worth watching. I sincerely doubt that Anvil or Tyson will be showing up during next year's Academy Awards ceremony, but I highly recommend you check both out.

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