Saturday, May 9, 2009
If you've seen This is Spinal Tap then you've seen Anvil: The Story of Anvil (opened May 1 at Landmark's Ken Cinema and now has been moved to Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas). The only difference is that Anvil is real. If I didn't know better I'd think that Anvil: The Story of Anvil (even the title sounds like a Christopher Guest mockumentary) was indeed a faux documentary making fun of aging metal rockers unable to cash in on the promise of their youth. But Anvil is real and that makes what happens funny but only in the most painful way. I'm sorry I missed reviewing this when it first opened so I'm glad its run got extended so I can catch up with it.
Sacha Gervasi's has crafted his documentary like the real-life version of Rob Reiner's Spinal Tap. There may not be a mini Stonehenge but there is a mixer that goes to 11 and plenty of emotional and creative outbursts. The film opens with icons of the heavy metal scene praising Anvil for setting the standard and inspiring them. But Anvil as it turns out may have been one of the most influential heavy metal bands that never quite made it. They enjoyed some popularity but never made it big. The band recorded about a dozen records and has a small but devoted following. Continuing in the face of so many unrealized dreams would seem crushing, but the band continues on, now entering their fourth decade of performing. What keeps them going? According to lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow, it's his friendship with the other band members and the joy of being "in the same room as the people who love you."
Toronto school friends Steve 'Lips' Kudlow and Robb Reiner (you cannot make something like that up) are now entering their fifth decade of life and still trying to eke a living from rock and roll. Gervasi shows us the day to day struggles of guys who work regular jobs and then try to rock and roll on the side. There's not much glamor here and sometimes we see that they don't even get paid for their gigs. The documentary hooks up with the band in 2005 as they prepare to go on a makeshift European tour. After a well received performance they get inspired and send a demo tape to legendary producer Chris Tsangarides (who had worked with Anvil during their heyday). He likes what he hears and wants to make a record. But the band will have to pay for it. You can feel their emotions rise and fall within moments as they thrill at the idea of Tsangarides wanting to produce an album and then reality sets in when he tells them how much money they have to come up with.
Gervasi finds plenty of humor in their plight and sometimes the humor is painful, like the humor in JCVD. It's funny only until you realize that these are real people desperately trying to make a living from something they love and not finding much success as they age. But Gervasi also finds some genuine emotion between Steve and Robb, and between the band members and their supportive families. This is a film about pursuing your dreams but it's not the syrupy slop handed out in films like Mr. Holland's Opus or Music of the Heart. This has more in common with something like The Wrestler where we get a gritty sense of working class people trying to realize their dreams.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil (unrated) is compelling, funny, sad and ultimately optimistic in the face of adversity. You may be inspired to check out the band's website to support these aging rockers in their quest for fame and fortune.
Companion viewing: This is Spinal Tap, The Song Remains the Same, The Wrestler, JCVD