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Anvil: The Story of Anvil

It’s the Real Life Spinal Tap

Above: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

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.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil


Above: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

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."

Anvil: The Story of Anvil


Above: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

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


Avatar for user 'bjc'

bjc | May 10, 2009 at 9:06 a.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Anvil Photos by Brent J. Craig

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Avatar for user 'gwideman'

gwideman | May 10, 2009 at 5:56 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Beth -- you might want to check the gender on Sacha :-).

With one of the themes being the importance of long-term relationships, it's perhaps of some interest that Sacha, visiting the US from the UK as a kid of 16 in '84, and no doubt defying parental hopes, talked his way into a roadie spot on Anvil's tour.

Also - on opening night at the Ken after the late show, Anvil were on hand to play a few songs for a substantial, and what looked to be enthusiastic, audience. Can't help but wish these guys good luck!

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Avatar for user 'gwideman'

gwideman | May 10, 2009 at 5:59 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Oops -- that first roadie spot was '82, so says Wikipedia. At any rate, no doubt quite the adventure for the young lad.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 10, 2009 at 7:40 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago


Sorry. We usually only credit the studio not the photographer but I fixed it and you are properly credited. Sorry for the oversight.


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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 10, 2009 at 7:48 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago


Thanks for catching my mistake. I fixed it.

Here is a reprint of part of Sacha's letter to Landmark Film Club members if anyone is interested in his story, which would make an interesting documentary on its own.

"I grew up in London in the early ’80s... I used to hang out at the Marquee Club on Wardour Street. We started hearing about this band from Toronto called Anvil. Then out of nowhere the band’s lead singer Lips appeared on the front cover of Sounds magazine brandishing a chainsaw between his teeth. My friends and I thought this was pretty wild and very cool but it was nothing compared to how we felt after we heard the band’s record “Metal on Metal.” It was unbelievably good. By the time they arrived to play the Marquee in late 1982, Anvil was already a legend.

After the show I tricked my way backstage and managed to meet my new idols. I was nervous, only expecting to say a brief hello to Lips and Robb with all the people swarming around them but they spent more time talking to me than they did members of the famous bands lining up to congratulate them. The fans really were more important to them than anyone.

Lips asked me if I’d be interested in joining them as a roadie for their North American tour the following summer. He told me all their roadies were fans. How could I say no?

What on earth was I going to say to my mother? There was no way in a million years she would allow her 16-year-old son to go out on the road with a rock band. I came up with a scheme. I told her that I wanted to spend the summer with my dad in New York. That summer I left London for New York. I jumped on a train to Toronto two days later!

That tour was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We traveled thousands of miles across the U.S. and Canada. I saw places and things I’d only ever dreamed about. The parties were pretty insane at times—it was the ’80s—but the band was always very protective over me, locking me out of the tour bus if things got too out of hand.

... I started to wonder what had happened to my old friends in Anvil. I went online to discover they had produced ten albums I’d never even heard of and they were still playing shows in clubs across Ontario and Quebec.

Two weeks later Lips flew out to meet me in Los Angeles. It was as if no time had passed between us. I was 15 again. Lips was exactly as I remembered him and though he was now in his 50s he still believed that Anvil’s day would come. I knew that weekend I had to make a film about him and his best friend Robb’s commitment to the dream they’d had as 14-year-olds…to rock together forever.

-Sacha Gervasi, director"

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Avatar for user 'bjc'

bjc | May 19, 2009 at 1:34 p.m. ― 6 years, 3 months ago

Much appreciated Beth! Thank you for your excellent review. I'm glad you liked the movie.

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