Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Movies Reviews Anvil
Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Release Date: Now playing in select cities

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner
Cinematographer: Christopher Soos
Studio/Run Time: Abramorama, 90 mins.

I’ll admit, when I first started hearing word of a documentary about a hugely influential but largely forgotten Canadian heavy-metal band now in their fifties, I suspected a hoax. Seeing the film only brought the Spinal Tap comparisons into clearer focus-the aging rockers suffering through demeaning gigs, the memory of the big show in Japan, the visit to Stonehenge, even an amp that actually goes to 11. But director Sascha Gervasi is playing those cards very deliberately—and very well. And his Anvil! The Story of Anvil is moving and very real. But don’t just take my word for it; Dustin Hoffman told the director: “This is the most inspirational, moving, beautiful film I think I’ve ever seen. I hated heavy metal until tonight.”

First the backstory, for those of you who (like me) had never heard of Anvil before this year. Dubbed “The Godfathers of Speed Metal,” they pretty much created the style that Megadeth, Slayer and—most notably—Metallica adopted to sell millions upon millions of records. For proof, listen to Lars of Metallica, Lemmy of Motorhead and Slash of Guns N’ Roses, all of whom give glowing testimony in the film. But unlike those bands, Anvil never quite hit it big, due to a combination of bad management, bad record labels and bad luck. When we find Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner (yes, his real name) at the present-day beginning of the film, they’re stuck in dead-end jobs in Toronto (Lips drives a delivery truck; Robb works construction). But they’re still rocking together, just as they made a pact to do 36 years ago in high school.

In the face of a disastrously misorganized European “tour,” intraband squabbles and record label indifference, Lips and Robb are an ideal pair to draw the viewer in to the band’s travails-the stoic, matter-of-fact Robb is a foil to Lips’ goofy, exuberant charisma. They’re a heavy metal Vladimir and Estragon—minus the existential angst—and indeed, some of the dialogue sounds straight out of Beckett. “After all’s been said and done, at least I can say that all has been said and done,” muses Lips. When asked why Anvil never hit it big, Robb deadpans, “I could answer that in one word. Two words. Three words-we haven’t had good management.” They’re so perfect in their roles that Gervasi’s cinematographer pulled him aside on the second day of shooting and demanded to know if they were really actors and if this wasn’t all just a setup. The head programmer of the Sundance Film Festival (where the film got standing ovations at every showing) originally thought the film was a hoax, too.

Lips’ and Robb’s tireless devotion to their dreams, and to each other, is Gervasi’s secret weapon. He draws you in with the silliness, but sets his hook with the sweetness. Their friendship, especially, is as deep and lasting as any you’ll find in music (“Siamese twins,” as one family member describes them). When Lips unabashedly explains, “It’s great to be in the same room as the people that love you,” how could you not be touched? And best of all, after you’ve seen the film, you’ll be inspired not only to participate in Anvil’s realization of their dreams (“this is the one film where the fans are writing the epilogue,” glows Lips), but maybe even to doggedly pursue your own.

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