Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009) 90 min. directed by: Sacha Gervasi. featuring: Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner,Tiziana Arogoni, Slash, Lars Ulrich. cinematography: Christopher Soos. original music: David Norland
Anvil photos(color) by Brent J. Craig.
” Honestly, how many bands do you know that are still together after 30 years ? You’ve got The Rolling Stones, The Who…you’ve got Anvil.”–Slash, guitarist for Guns and Roses.
Never heard of Anvil? Don’t worry, neither had I until I saw this wacky, warm-hearted documentary by Sacha Gervasi, script-writer for Spielberg’s The Terminal. If you do remember Anvil, then it’s because you were around and alert during the mid-80s, the only time the metal band experienced anything remotely considered popularity. Back then they were fiery, reckless newcomers touring with bands like Whitesnake and Bon Jovi and being called “the hottest thing in heavy metal music”.
The likes of Slash, Lemmy from Motorhead and Lars Ulrich from Metallica provide talking heads at the opening of the film, praising Anvil and their influence on the metal scene. And then all of them get quiet, solemnly wondering what ever happened to Anvil? They had the talent, and the drive, but it just didn’t seem to hit for them.
The film then flashes forward 25 years and we see what happened to Anvil. Lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who used to come on stage in fetish gear brandishing sex toys with which to play his Flying V, is now a blue-collar worker whose vocation is delivering meals for the Choice Children’s Catering service. Living an obscure, fallen existence that would make Randy the Ram shake his head with sadness, Kudlow keeps talking about his band and the promise of the future the entire time he’s schlepping frozen shepherd’s pie all over Toronto.
He doesn’t sound that crazy when you realize that while Anvil’s fame evaporated in the 80s, the band itself did not. They are still playing together, and as the film opens Steve has just landed a new agent in the form of Tiziana Arrigoni, a loopy Swede who books the band on a whirlwind, haphazard European tour. What follows then made me initially doubt the film’s authenticity.
Tiziana doesn’t speak english very well, and she doesn’t seem to be adept at scheduling the proper transportation to and from events for the band. Steve, ever the sad-eyed optimist stands at the window watching the packed bus they were supposed to be leaving on and says ” Until you become a real commodity, this is what you deal with.” Later when they miss the plane, sleep in the airport and then arrive two hours late to a gig in Prague where they play and the promoters refuse to pay them Steve ultimately brushes it away with “”Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” And that, more or less, is the reason Anvil is still around at all. Steve keeps one eye fixed on the future with anticipation as he and his bandmates keep toiling in the face of a less than stellar present.
Reiner and Kudlow have been friends since they were 14 and Steve’s the goofy, energetic lead while Robb stands around glaring like Heathcliff on the moors. Over the course of the film, the pair have numerous heated fights and Robb quits at least three times, always re-emerging to Steve, reconciling and then moving forward again. Their wives and family members acknowledge the bond and we realize their off-kilter brotherhood is the glue that holds this way past its sell-by date band together. After the European tour ends with a wheeze–the Transylvanian concert only draws 178 in a venue that the promoters tell him can seat 10,000–Anvil regroups, ditches Tiziana and plan to record their 13th album with no funds left to do so. All of this would be horribly depressing if Steve weren’t so hopeful and the band themselves so quirky. Really, really quirky in fact. To the point that it would be easy for one to assume this was a mockumentary.
Christopher Guest’s This is Spinal Tap! haunts every frame of this movie. So on point was that original satire and so typical are Anvil as a metal band that there are hilarious overlaps. Besides the fact the drummer’s name is Robb Reiner, a knob gets turned to 11, and Anvil makes an almost spiritual sojourn to Stonhenge, both films boast the colorful antics of the band’s members. One of Anvil’s original written songs is called Thumb Hang, an ode to the Spanish Inquisition. Robb turns out to be a painter in his spare time. I was suprised to see that his work bears a resemblence to Edward Hopper in its construction and it’s really not that bad. He talks about the lonely qualities of his art, and then shows us his masterpiece: a still-life of a turd floating in an austere toilet bowl. He is most proud of the realistic texture.
Eventually Steve’s sister gives him the money( inspiring the line “Family is important s**t, man!”) necessary to produce a new record with their old producer and he and Robb squabble, break up the band, repair it an hour later, and manage to finish the job. Where the film goes from there should be left to the viewer. At this point we have wriggled on the hook with Steve and Robb and their families and the future is uncertain, but it doesn’t look good. Anvil find themselves back in Japan and watching the two lifelong friends wander the streets of Tokyo while Chris Sool’s melancholy score plays, we hope for the best for these guys even if Anvil fails.
The film is very, very funny and it’s also good-natured, despite the occasional strong language from the aging rockers. Director Sacha Gervasi has an interesting connection to Anvil; he was their roadie when he was 16. His affection for them shines through here, and he edits the movie with a knowing gentleness–even when things are falling apart between Robb and Steve, the film knows better and follows them long enough to show that they know better too. Gervasi captures the chaos of their tour, the oddness of their Toronto fan-base including Mad Dog and Cut Loose–two guys who have been following Anvil for years, and the bitterness of their obscurity in the face of their short-lived success. There is a great bit of incongruity when Lips, who once ran across stage in the 80s wearing nothing but rubber straps, struggles with being pushy on a telemarketing job he has been given by Cut Loose. “Ive been raised to be polite all my life, and I don’t think I can do this.”
In the end, it’s a surprisingly moving film that captures steadfast dedication to a dream and an idea, and to a friendship. I can’t guarantee you will be won over by Anvil’s music, or think Robb and Steve are swell guys who have made clearly wise decisions and have appropriately stewarded their dreams. I do contend though, that you will walk away from Anvil with a smile on your face and a refreshed sense of hope in the power of optimism.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil opens in Baltimore today at The Charles Theater. Find showtimes and theater info HERE.