ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (2008) ****1/2 event review by COOP

Posted on June 27th, 2008
Posted on June 27th, 2008

I hate documentaries. They have an agenda, they’re preachy and too damn… based in reality. Can’t a man go to the cinema anymore and watch aliens blast the hell out of New York only to have Snake Plissken kick their butts and send them cryin’ back home to mama? (Damn, somebody make that movie and do it quick)

I make one exception in the documentary category: Underdog stories. “The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters” comes to mind as a recent punch to my hardened heartstrings. “Mule Skinner Blues” achieved a similar effect, though to a lesser extent. Those are the doc-stories I can get behind. Remember when we thought Michael Moore was king of the underdogs when “Roger and Me” debuted? I miss those days.

“Anvil!” falls firmly into this under-doc (pun intended) category. To fully appreciate this film, it helps to be a fan of the genre of music that Anvil occupies: Thrash/speed/heavy metal. I discovered this music around 1989 and fell in love with it. Funny I had never heard of Anvil. Funnier still is how this ended up being the most unique and entertaining screenings I’ve ever witnessed. How could I have missed these guys?

Slash of Guns ‘N Roses didn’t. Neither did Lars Ulrich of Metallica, nor Scott Ian of Anthrax. In the opening scenes of “Anvil!” they cite the band as one of their biggest influences and expressed their jealousy of having to follow such a skilled and intense act. Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Anvil’s frontman, was notorious for using a dildo/vibrator to agitate the strings of his “Flying-V” guitar and screaming into its pickups to resonate an eerie voice through the amps. The opening sequence showed scenes from Anvil’s heyday (early 1980’s) when they shared the stage with A-list acts like The Scorpions and Judas Priest. One hysterically shocking image shows Lips in his youth, holding his guitar, displaying full frontal nudity and smiling for the camera. The whole amphitheater erupted in hysterics. Is that marijuana I smell?

Fast-forward to present day. The two remaining members, Lips and drummer, Robb Reiner (yes, his real name) live in their native Toronto doing menial jobs. Lips delivers food supplies to public schools while Robb does contracting labor, yet the two guys still keep Anvil alive and have been, FOR 13 WHOLE ALBUMS. They have dreams of a revival where they might re-attain the glory they once had, and possibly surpass it. Unfortunately, the guys don’t realize how out-of-date their music is and insist they can pull off a comeback. Their new hope comes in the form of a European woman/fan who barely speaks English, but claims she can manage them and secure profitable tour dates all across Europe.

Of course the whole tour is a disaster. They play tiny clubs, sometimes with less than ten fans showing up, they don’t get paid a single euro and go home demoralized. Yet they persist and plan their next angle of attack: Another new album. Regaining the attention of a producer from their glory days, they get their hopes up again and press on towards one last shot at dignity, wealth and possibly… fame?

I recently rediscovered my glam/heavy metal roots when I saw first The Cult and W.A.S.P. in concert this year. I missed out on that in my youth. Those guys never came to Mississippi and I doubt my parents would’ve let me go. They scared the hell out of God-fearing adults, inspired religious movements to rally against them when by today’s standards, they appear tame. Ozzy Osbourne went from bat head-eating boogeyman to senile old fart, Tommy Lee has hepatitis-C and a lousy solo career, Richie Sambora got a DUI with his kids in the car and wears a hairpiece (don’t believe me? Go look at his recent mugshot). These are the devils our parents were so afraid of? My dad now listens to Led Zepplin. The sky is falling. Tonight I saw geezers ten years older than most grandparents rocking out to Anvil with lyrics like: “Out in the school yard, little peaches play… Rubbing their beaves, they got a lot to say!” Take THAT, Tipper Gore.

No boogeymen in this film. Only sincere, human (Canuck) beings with a dream. A dream to rock no matter what obstacles stand in their path. They turn into grinning, blubbering babies when they get the occasional scrap of recognition and God help me I love them for it. That’s why I laughed, cried and cheered for them throughout this film. I did the same twice as hard when they took the stage after the screening. Yes, the two original Anvil members and their acquired bassist appeared on stage and reveled in their own glory. This was their ultimate triumph and we, the audience, were there to witness it. A gigantic moment indeed as Lips began with a solo and then joined the rest of the band for their new opus, “This is Thirteen.” They broke into other classics such as “666” and their most recognizable anthem “Metal to Metal” in which the aforementioned Scott Ian made a surprise appearance and filled in as rhythm guitarist. That got me stoked because the last time I saw Ian play was when White Zombie opened for Anthrax in Dallas, August 1993. I remember it well because I skipped my college orientation for that show. Drummer Robb Reiner proved his superhuman drumming skills during the song “White Rhino” (yes, named after the strain of pot), and delivered despite his age pushing well over fifty. Is that marijuana I smell… again?

Afterwards, Director Sacha Gervasi came onstage for a Q & A and explained his obsession with Anvil. Apparently he pulled a Cameron Crowe/”Almost Famous” back in 1982 and, at the age of 16, went on tour with Anvil across Europe. He declared them his favorite band of all time and even played drums with them on the song “School Love.” He and the band answered a few questions. Two that stood out in my mind were:

Q: When is the 14th album coming out?

A: (Lips) We’re working on it as we speak.

Q: Has your film been bought yet and will it be distributed?

A: (Gervasi) Fuck no. Believe it or not, we’ve decided NOT to sell this movie. (Lips) F*** ‘em! F*** the industry! (Gervasi) Yeah, f*** ‘em! We are going to take this documentary on tour, show it all over the place and Anvil will perform afterwards just like they did tonight!

The crowd CHEERED in approval. Genius. Gervasi even got a text message that very night and shared it with the crowd. It was from Michael Moore. Yes, the Michael Moore of “Roger and Me,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 911” fame. Moore congratulated Anvil of their success, counted himself as a big fan and invited them to his film festival in Michigan. The crowd CHEERED again. Encore.

I don’t see this getting an Oscar nomination but they’re up for an L.A. Film Festival Award. I voted for them and hope they get it. Folks, if this show comes to your town, check it out. It helps to be a fan of the heavy metal genre, but I did hear a 70 year-old lady walking out of the show saying, “My, wasn’t that a touching story?” Go, watch the touching story, witness Anvil rock the house and go home happy.

This was the happiest I’ve been at a show since I saw W.A.S.P. in February. I took six girls and we sat in the V.I.P. section. The singer for “Fatal Smile” (yeah, never heard of them either) groped one of the girls. It was one of the best nights of my life.

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” was pretty good too. Hopefully coming to a city near you. Gervasi said to check for show dates.

Go see it.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

This isn’t a trailer. More like a promo for their Sundance premiere, but watch it to see Robert Redford marvel at the film. I think he liked it…

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