Just watched this again. Just as good as the first time. Here’s what I wrote during its brief theatrical reign:
Generally speaking, listening to stories about 1980s heavy metal can be a far more entertaining prospect than going back to listen to the music itself. Most ‘80s metal lacks sincerity and substance; the complexity lies instead in the people who create that music without sincerity, and the fans who applaud that music, despite its lack of substance, with the utmost sincerity. It can be enough to make you want to bang your head.
Enter the new documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil.
Even after a decade or more of our national exposure to shows like Behind The Music and Rock Of Love and books like The Dirt and The Heroin Diaries, Sacha Gervasi’s documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil will leap out amongst a sea of metal retrospectives as one to remember.
The comparisons to the trailblazing mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap are inevitable, but unlike Spinal Tap, the band Anvil is very, very real. The amazing thing about the movie Anvil! is that even going into it with the knowledge that this is a true story – after watching the archival footage of the Japan stadium tour, and seeing the slide show of anvil-centric album covers, and hearing the endorsements of such luminaries as Lemmy from Motorhead and Lars from Metallica – it still takes a while to believe that the band is real. They even take a pivotal trip to Stonehenge!
That is due in part to the viewer’s conditioning to expect that heavy metal stories at this point will be meant as jokes. That is also due in part to the hopeless Canadian-ness of the band. But mostly, it is due to the impression made by the heart and soul of Anvil – lifelong friends Steve “Lips” Kudlow (frontman) and Robb Reiner (drums).
Lips and Robb are quintessentially metal characters, but also recognizably real. What they may lack in substance, they make up for in sincerity – and then some. Lips is superhumanly enthusiastic and persistent and energetic, while Robb comes across as contemplative and thoughtful and occasionally catatonic. At first blush it seems like the movie is poking fun at them, but very quickly they emerge as sympathetic and sometimes very sad protagonists.
Throughout the film, the band suffers a gauntlet of underattended shows, amateurish management, welching promoters, vacant day jobs, family expectations, and constant rejection. Like Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler, their optimistic persistence in the face of crushing reality is both depressing and legitimately heroic.
Without ruining the ending, let it be said only that this is no depress-fest. (Mild spoiler: Don’t give up on your dream. Ever.) When Anvil’s persistence ultimately pays off, it’s the most uplifting experience to be had in a movie theater since Slumdog Millionaire. Metalheads may just cry tears of joy.
Anvil! is one of those movies that will probably be overlooked in its theatrical run and then very quickly become one of those cult films that is beloved and shared by people who know good movies. Take some friends and take a chance on it while it’s still playing locally.
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil is playing at the Regal 25 on West 42nd St. and at the Angelika Film Center. Visit the official site at www.anvilmovie.com for more information.
And visit me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb