ANVIL HAMMERS OUT A LOVING PROFILE OF ROCK JOURNEYMEN:
April 12, 2009
Claudia Puig of www.usatoday.com writes that this is a story of a failed heavy metal band that cranks the volume up to 11 and holds concerts where hardly anyone shows. There’s even a scene at Stonehenge, and their drummer’s name is Robb Reiner.
But this not Spinal Tap 2: The Balding Years. Still, there are moments where this documentary pays homage to that 1984 mockumentary. Its title, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, is the first clue to its potent sense of humor.
The biggest surprise is not the pervasive comedy in this compelling rockumentary. It’s the poignant, even heartbreaking, moments that sneak up on you as the saga unfolds. By the end, you feel you know — and maybe even kind of love — these middle-aged rockin’ fools. No matter what you make of their talent, it’s hard not to admire their determination and unflagging belief in the rock ‘n’ roll dream.
Guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Reiner are a pair of Canadians who met in high school. They formed a heavy metal band they dubbed Anvil, and their early music was said to influence the biggies of that genre, bands like Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer. But while those bands went on to make millions, Anvil churned out a dozen records and fell deeper into obscurity. Without bitterness, the guys took day jobs, got married, had kids and kept on rockin’.
Then Kudlow and Reiner — who form the heart of the band and hire a couple of more musicians for gigs — try one last European tour, a series of misadventures which are both hilarious and sad. Led by a bumbling, quixotic manager, they show up late, go unpaid, miss train connections and play to nearly empty venues. Down, but not out, in one last-ditch effort they record their 13th album.
You don’t have to be a metal fan to be moved by Anvil’s story. It is mostly a tale of Reiner and Kudlow’s friendship, a bond that involves bouts of squabbling, even tears, and subsequent forgiveness. Director Sacha Gervasi has an evident affection for his subjects. We come to know the guys not only from their interactions, but from the observations of their wives, children and siblings. Their families round out the portrait of an abiding friendship. You could even call it a heavy-metal love story.
Determined to follow their dream, even if it’s a pipe dream, Anvil is emblematic of struggling artists everywhere. We meet these fiftysomething men as they perform their drudgery-filled day jobs. When we see them on stage, even if performing for only a tiny audience, they seem years younger.
Neil Young once said: It’s better to burn out than it is to rust. But moviegoers are lucky Anvil didn’t take Young’s advice. Who knew heavy metal could seem like fine art when it rusts?