Anvil! The Story Of Anvil

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

It is 1984, and the Canadian proto-slashers Anvil are at the top of their game. Their first album, Metal On Metal, has proven a huge influence on the nascent heavy metal scene, the outrageous showmanship of their lead singer Steve 'Lips' Kudlow ensures their live performances are always memorable, their drummer (and Kudlow's best friend since he was 14) Robb Reiner is, according to a later assessment by Metallica's Lee Ulrich, "the best out there", and they have just played Japan's Super Rock Festival before a stadium heaving with adoring fans. Yet unlike so many of their peers and imitators who went on to sell millions of records, Anvil somehow get passed over and left behind. As Motorhead's Lemmy puts it: "you've gotta be at the right place at the right time."

Cut to the present day, and Kudlow and Reiner are still at it in their fifties. They may have day jobs, they may have families to support (or who support them), but they are still pursuing the same adolescent dream of rock stardom in a band whose latest line-up includes two of their younger fans. British filmmaker Sacha Gervasi is himself a one-time fan who as a teenager in the Eighties accompanied them as a roadie on two of their American tours.

Copy picture

As he catches up with his former friends and heroes in this endearing documentary, they are going on a semi-disastrous European tour (their first in ages), and are reunited with their very first producer, Chris 'CT' Tsangerides, in the hope that he can bring back some of their glory years and give them the breakthrough they have been chasing for decades.

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil is a tale of mishaps, anguish and chronic rejection, as bad management and the advance of time all begin (or rather endlessly continue) to take their toll on the band – but thanks to Kudlow's seemingly limitless optimism and his enduring friendship with Reiner, it is impossible not to be charmed by his arrested development and to find yourself rooting for his eventual success even as you laugh at his many failures.

Endearingly, the very same man whose first composition, Thumb Hang, concerned a particular method of inquisitional torture ("I thought, there's a cool subject"), and who used to perform on stage dressed in bondage gear and brandishing a dildo, later complains of an abortive attempt at telemarketing: "I've been trained my whole life to be polite, and that job is the exact opposite." Kudlow may be childlike, but with that comes a brand of innocence that is utterly winning.

In a sense there is little here that has not already been seen in other band-oriented films. There are the emotional meltdowns and studio angst of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004), albeit on a smaller scale. There is the comic spectacle of an aging metal-head still clinging to the ambitions of his youth, as in The Rocker (2008). And it goes without saying that there is the epically absurd posturing of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) – with Gervasi lovingly focusing on the moment when Tsangerides actually does turn the dial up to 11. Yet what makes it all work is the director's genuine affection for his subjects, so that the film's inherent humour never quite lapses into a supercilious kind of ridicule. Put simply, Gervasi is with Anvil all the way, and the result is that you will be, too.

The greatest irony, of course, is that if anything is going to resurrect these dinosaurs of rock, it is this film. So expect a massive comeback some time soon from the band that never quite went away.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2008
Share this with others on...
Documentary tracks the attempts of rock band Anvil to 'make it' 20 years after their were first hailed as the "demi-gods of Canadian metal".


Search database: