Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) Review (R/Unrated)

This was just awe inspiring as far as documentaries are concerned. It’s like some kind of cosmic anomaly, even. The film follows Anvil, a heavy metal band that’s been together for over 30 years, toured the world and practically no one’s heard of them, yet influenced/inspired a long list of metal/hard rock bands, that play music with the kind of persona like they’re a parody of the very music that they play. That one of them is named Robb Reiner, that this is a documentary of a metal band and that there is a ‘Stonehenge’ moment in the film is… Well, there’s more than a passing resemblance to Spinal Tap, but these guys are the real deal. Like I said, it’s some kind of cosmic anomaly.

The film focuses mainly on the central members of Anvil, guitarist Reiner and singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow. They formed the band in the 70s as childhood friends and have continued performing under the Anvil moniker ever since, producing quite a few albums with modest success. It documents the highs and lows of their career with emphasis on their latest failed European tour, and their attempts to record their latest album and to get it heard.

It’s not exactly the rock n’ roll lifestyle as their lives (and families… and fans) are depicted in a small Canadian town… but it is interesting. I think even if you don’t care for their music, it’s clear that they do entertain the fans that show up to see them live. I enjoyed seeing the artwork of Kudlow, also. Especially that painting that leads down into his basement. Obviously, they have a need to create art in some way or another (and art’s subjective).

The funny thing is, though, amongst the true life rock cliches depicted, the disarmingly funny metalhead (to put it kindly) moments, the 1980s style metal album covers, the bar concerts with practically no one in attendance, the stark realities of the aging band members… Even with all of that… There is an amazingly poignant and heartfelt story of a band that perseveres against obscurity and the heavy odds against them.

There is an obvious love for the particular style of music that the band performs and is a cathartic release for them from the strains of 9 to 5 jobs, from the pressure of having not succeeded as they had hoped they might and their familial responsibilities. I found the film (and more importantly, the band) extremely uplifting. It’s inspiring that they continue to follow their dreams even with resistance from some within their own families as well as from within the record industry.

This is a GREAT film about a band that didn’t quite make it still struggling against all odds despite being middle aged. It has humor. It’s filled with the same hope and doubt of the central figures.It’s even poignant at times.  There are also quite a few appearances by more well known metal band members (like Lars Ulrich, Lemmy Motorhead, Scott Ian,Tommy Aldridge, Slash, etc), even if a lot of them are relegated to the opening moments of the film. It’s one of the better documentaries I’ve seen, maybe not in the class of Senna or Man On Wire, but for its subject matter, it’s (dare I say) brilliant.

It’s no surprise that the director of the documentary, Sacha Gervasi, was a fan of the band in his formative years. Unlike some documentaries that seem to want to paint a dreary picture of its subject, there is obviously a lot of love for the band, while still being largely objective. If you like documentaries (and even if you are not a metal fan), I think you’ll enjoy this. It paints an optimistic picture of a handful of lives, despite their struggles.  Long live Anvil!

5 of 5


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