December 2, 2009 -- I've been watching a lot of really depressing movies lately, so “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” is a breath of fresh air after all these serious movies. It isn't really a comedy, but it isn't really downbeat, either. This is a story of a band that just won't quit, despite some serious setbacks and years in obscurity. This is a story about love of music, love of performing, following your dreams, families, and maintaining long friendships. I just couldn't help but root for these underdogs to rise up and shake the music world. Maybe they will do just that.
Anvil is a seminal heavy metal band from Toronto that was very influential in the early days of this rock genre, a fact attested to by Lars Ulrich of Metallica (Lars also starred in the documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and a number of other films), Malcom Dome of Metal Hammer Magazine, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Lemmy of Motorhead, Slash of Guns & Roses and Velvet Revolver, Tom Araya of Slayer all testify to this in an impressive early four minute segment of film featuring footage from a 1984 Japanese tour of heavy metal bands. All of these bands, except for Anvil went on the sell millions of records, including Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Slash said other bands ripped off Anvil's sound and then “left them for dead.”
The film catches up with Anvil in 2009 to find the band still performing, but not very well known (until this film was released). The film tries to explain the band's downfall while following the band on a poorly planned and poorly attended European tour. Filmmakers follow the band as it tries to rise again from obscurity to put out a 13th album, always hoping that this time, at last, the band will hit that rock and roll jackpot: fame, big crowds and fortune. Two of the band's founding members, mercurial lead vocalist Steve 'Lips' Kudlow and laid-back drummer Robb Reiner (no relation to the movie director) form the heart of the story. In the cold Toronto winter, we see Steve delivering meals with a van, and Robb is running a jackhammer in a building demolition job. These are not big stars taking time off from music. These are former rock stars who are now blue-collar workers with a dream of making it big one more time.
This film explores the dark side of the music business as no record company will back the band in its attempt to put out a new album. The band has to raise its own money to put out a new CD. This is the equivalent of self-publishing a book. They don't have the money, so Steve's sister Rhonda generously loans them the money for the recording session in Dover, England. Family members are anxious about the band's future. Robb's wife says, “Someone has to stay home, raising a child and work. I've been very patient, as a wife. How long do I have to keep waiting?” Anger explodes between Robb and Steve during the stressful recording sessions at Dover, prompting producer Chris Tsangarides to act as a peacemaker. After the CD is finished, they send copies to all the major record labels, hoping that someone will pick up their CD, back it and promote it. Nobody does. But a promoter in Japan hears the CD and offers them a gig at a massive metal concert in Tokyo, a place they ruled once 25 years ago.
The way director Sacha Gervasi handles this Tokyo concert story is very deft. With all the failures, heartache and disappointment that Anvil has suffered, we are left to wonder whether anyone will bother to show up for this Anvil performance at 11:30 a.m. Is this the end for Anvil, or is it a new beginning? This is a very well-constructed documentary which really gets inside the music business. You have to admire Robb and Steve for their stubborn determination to succeed despite over 20 years of bad breaks, bad management, record producers and engineers who ruined their projects, and thin finances. I was really rooting for these guys to succeed and I hope they do. This is one of those movies that makes you want to find out what happens next, and those are the best kind. I'm not a heavy metal fan, but you don't have to be to enjoy this film. This film rates an A. It is the best documentary I've seen this year. It reminds me of that AC/DC song and album title, “For those about to rock, we salute you.”
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.