It's no uncommon thing to see a documentary about a popular (or formerly popular) band, sometimes even in theatres. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster springs to mind. A lot of the time this can even cause the subject bands to reunite for a tour or two. The difference here is that Anvil, though big enough to tour Japan with the likes of Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, never quite reached the modicum of popularity that their influencees did (Tom Araya, Scott Ian, Slash, Lemmy and Lars Ulrich are all interviewed). Another thing... well... Anvil can't exactly "reunite", regardless of how well this theatrically released documentary does... because Anvil never actually broke up.
Yeah, Lips and Robb are still together and actually performed with the full band at... Lips' 50th Birthday party. When they're not playing together they're working day jobs such as delivering food to local elementary schools. It's not quite the Rock and Roll Lifestyle we mid-80s Long-Hairs aspired to.
The most fascinating part of Anvil in the 21st Century is that, to them, their 20 plus years of lack-of-success is the exception, not the rule. Just as they did back in 1982 they feel that they are just on the CUSP of stardom and all it will take is the right catalyst to help them to "Make It". Rolling back the clock a little, do you remember the documentary The Decline of the Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years? Yeah? Remember that band Odin whose lead singer was DEFINITELY going to "make it" to the point that it never crossed his mind in any way shape or form that he might NOT "make it"? Bypassing the obvious question of whether you've heard anything from a band called Odin, like EVER, can you imagine the same self-assured manifestos spoken by a couple of guys in their fifties who actually put out several albums... and STILL expected that any time they would finally break down that wall and become HUGE?
Watching them try is, in a word, painful. That's not to say their music sucks. Fans of the genre may not call them a favorite but wouldn't run screaming either. The problem is that virtually every step of the way, whether it's their fault or not, everything Anvil tries falls apart. The assumption I made about Spinal Tap wasn't far off! Anvil! is hilarious as a comedy of errors and the bad news that keeps befalling the guys can be alternately funny and depressing.
Out of NOWHERE the guys get a European tour and are filled with hope for record companies and legions of screaming metal fans. That's... not quite how it goes. The guys have the opportunity to again work with the producer of their biggest album (Chris "CT" Tsangarides)... but that's not quite the slam dunk it could be. But at least there will be plenty of Record Labels waiting to put the album out once it's recorded, right? Right? By the time we hear they've been invited to Japan again we're all crossing our fingers that finally something will work out for these kids.
And that's the truth about Anvil! The Story of Anvil, it's a surprisingly touching movie and no matter what you think of these guys (or their songs) when the documentary begins, it's hard not to root for them once you get to know them. At core, this is a study of perseverance. Whereas many bands who got bigger than Anvil had their 15 minutes of fame, watched their stars fall and became house painters, Anvil never stopped wishing on that star and they're willing to try anything to launch it again. You have to admire these guys and their "Never Give Up/ Never Surrender" attitude and after the string of misfires documented here, you're most likely to hope they succeed. Of course, it doesn't hurt to see these same two guys (who once got famous for performing songs like "666", "Metal on Metal" and "March of the Crabs") as good family men who love their kids, wives, parents and siblings.
Former Roadie turned Filmmaker Sacha "Teabag" Gervasi toured with Anvil back in their heyday and returned to cover them in their more current incarnation. As a director it's clear that he wants to create a solid rockumentary that covers all the bases of this chapter in the life of Anvil. As a fan, however, it's clear that he knows and understands the music and, in some ways, wants the band to succeed for artistic, altruistic and avaristic reasons all in one. As a human being, however, Gervasi seems to balance his fandom with his art and packaging to create something funny and interesting. At times this works well... and at times the way things are framed and set up seem calculated to make the guys look silly or sad. Sure this is what REALLY HAPPENED but there is a clear attempt to evoke laughter, often at the expense of Robb and Lips. The sad truth is that these moments actually are funny and, at their expense or not, these painfully hilarious incidents help us to feel for these intrepid rockers all the more, whether they're commiserating, fighting or entering into a Metallica-like therapy session with their producer.
However, there are large parts missing from the story as if Gervasi was either unavailable or failed to load the camera with tapes during some significant events. Though the tale never devolves into a repetitive or out-of-order mess, some of the shifts forward in time can get a little tiresome. Meanwhile Gervasi seems to make up for these missing pieces by padding out some of the less important moments. Still, seeing what a talented visual artist Robb Reiner is and how much Anvil Metaphor can be found in his work was more than worth the time to see.
All told, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is about as straightforward as its title. It's a sad and funny human story about the band that reached for the stars and just might grab them... tomorrow! Three and One Half Stars out of Five for the Anvil Documentary that metal fans never thought they'd see and art-house documentary fans never dreamed they'd want to. With their film receiving such high praise from all sorts of unlikely circles, I can almost see them now just calculating how this is the film that's going to do it for them and before long they'll be huge. I hope so guys... you've more than worked for it. See you both in the next reel!
As for you curious readers out there who want to know more about Anvil or buy their new CD, check out AnvilMetal.com!
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