Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Movie Information

The Story: An intimate portrait of a 1980s metal band that never made the big time, but refused -- and refuses -- to go away. The Lowdown: You don't have to like metal to become swept up in this remarkable story of friendship and dedication to a dream.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Chris Tsangarides, Glenn Gyorffy, William Howell, Tiziana Arrigoni
Rated: NR

Yeah, it has a 98 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but rarely have I sat down with lower expectations than those I had for Anvil! The Story of Anvil—despite the rating and the fact that the reviews in question made it sound very enticing. In fact, I’ve had a screener for the film for weeks now, but kept putting off watching it till I had no choice. The problem was that it just didn’t sound all that interesting to me.

I’m not nostalgic for the 1980s in general, and even less nostalgic for ‘80s metal hair bands. I can’t even claim to care much for metal bands in general in any of the ever-increasing number of permutations. It all sounds about the same to me, and it’s not a sound I care for in large doses. (Before anyone insists on setting me straight on the topic, please note I did not say it all sounds the same, only that it sounds the same to me.) At bottom, what I couldn’t fathom was what possible connection I was likely to feel with a couple of 50-plus Canadian headbangers who never quite made it, yet never quite gave up. The answer, it turns out, was simple: humanity and dreams.

I’m not saying I was immediately transfixed by Anvil—the movie doesn’t work that way—and I’m for sure not ordering their CDs. But I am saying that I ended up liking front man Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (yeah, that really does appear to be his name). I also ended up admiring them, understanding them and wanting the best for them. Are they slightly absurd and even a little ridiculous? Well, we’re talking about a 50-odd-year-old lead singer with a mass of long curly hair—and a large bald spot. But this is actually part of the appeal.

As we age, the tendency is to give up on or compromise our youthful dreams—to grow up, get a haircut and a job—so there’s something inherently appealing and touching about these guys who didn’t do that. Oh sure, they got jobs—menial ones—but they didn’t go out and get careers. There is a significant difference. The jobs just keep them going between gigs: Anvil is their career. And it’s very much their career, which is the other key to what makes the film work. It’s as much about the relationship between “Lips” and Robb as it is about the band—about two guys, closer than brothers, who’ve been together since they met at the age of 14.

Anvil is the story of the romance of a friendship in all its variations, from the sublime to the mundane. There are moments in the film where it seems like this friendship can’t withstand the pressures of trying to be Anvil—that no friendship could—but there are other points when you realize that nothing could destroy it. At those points—moments when you realize that the pair understands each other in ways no one else ever could—you know that every bit of being Anvil is worth it, that it’s part of the dynamic.

In the end, we get the delight of a portrait of some guys who never packed it in, and the endorsement of the indomitability of the human spirit. When you hear “Lips” talk about their comically catastrophic tour—“Sometimes things go wrong. This time things went drastically wrong, but at least there was a tour for them to go wrong on”—you understand that these boys are somewhere in the realm of holy fools. And the accent is more on holy than fools, something the events of the film just happen to dovetail with. See it and see what I mean. You won’t regret it. Not rated, but contains pervasive language and some nudity.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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