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Directed by
Sacha Gervasi
Produced by
Rebecca Yeldham
Released by VH1/Abramorama
USA. 90 min. Not Rated
Steve (Lips) Kudlow & Robb Reiner

The entire history of this band seems to be summed up in the opening montage of a concert in 1984, the best year in the bandmates’ lives. On a legendary stadium tour with internationally heavyweight rockers—the Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi—the four-man band exuberantly performs at the Super Rock Festival in Japan. Over 25 years later, a bevy of hard rock stars wax nostalgic, some even coherently, about the impact of the group’s stage antics, S & M costumes, and hard-driving guitars and drums in head-banging anthems like “Metal on Metal.”

Metallicas Lars Ulrich, who was introspective in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, ponders why this band never became stars like him, and suggests they were too isolated in Canada. Which is another way of saying—Anvil may just be too nice for rock ‘n’ roll. Like Cameron Crowe with his fictional Almost Famous, director Sacha Gervasi (scripter of studio films The Big Tease and The Terminal) relives his teen experiences as a roadie with Anvil in the 1980’s. When he revisits the band, he finds they are not resting on their glory days. Despite their frustrating experiences with everything that can go wrong in the music business—with management, producers, tours, and record companies—these middle-aged long hairs still hope to make it big.

Gervasi follows founding band members Steve (Lips) Kudlow (voluble lead vocalist and guitarist) and Robb Reiner (stoic drummer) along on their food delivery and construction day jobs (respectively) in Ontario, still not far from their childhood homes. They have been best friends, and sparring partners, since 1973, performing whenever they can for their few loyal, middle-aged fans. But one day they get word that one fan in Switzerland is determined to start her own booking agency by organizing Anvil’s first tour of Europe in two decades. With both amusement and heartbreak, Gervasi sympathetically builds up the suspense during the following rock ‘n’ roll tour from hell.

Just when it seems like Anvil will be caricatures from (the other) Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, their palpable sincerity and dedication to their dream reveals them to be regular guys on vacation who just love to entertain. In a touching sequence that eerily parallels Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Lips surprises a fan who offers him a telemarketing job—offstage, he can’t sustain his aggressive on-stage persona.

More than halfway through, Gervasi reveals that the support of their families is crucial to why they have not ended up like the fictional Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Both Lips and Robb come from close Jewish families. While Reiner’s wife and sister look to still be partying like it’s 1989, his inspiration is his father, who survived Auschwitz. Reiner proudly displays a necklace of gold drumsticks his jeweler father made for him that he always wears—when Lips hasn’t pulled it off during a fight. Lips’ siblings have more conventional lifestyles and careers, including a doctor and an accountant, and it is sister Rhonda who comes through when lightning strikes and the group has a chance to record with a renowned producer in England.

Even as they seem to be sadly pinning their hopes on the old-school model of music biz success, at a time when record companies are more like dinosaurs than the band (their visit to Stonehenge is ripe with symbolism), it is impossible not to get caught up in their boundless optimism, which seems to counter metal’s nihilism. Their heavy-metal dreams are more sentimental than rebellious as they get the chance to once again perform in Tokyo.

The viewers of VH1, which is distributing and promoting the film, will be familiar with the few heavy metal and specific band references that are thrown around without explanation for the non-cognoscenti—hard rock, thrash metal, hair bands, Anthrax, Slayer. However, the relationships are much more important to the film than the music. Anvil! The Story of Anvil emotionally appeals to a wider audience, much like Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong did to non-players of classic video games. Nora Lee Mandel
April 10, 2009



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