While the rockumentary isn’t exactly a genre that’s in need of expanding, few of us will ever moan when its ranks swell. Following in the path of such behemoths as This Is Spinal Tap and Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, Anvil! The Story of Anvil confirms the fact metal is entertaining as hell without needing to break a sweat.
Feted in the early-80 as trailblazers for stumbling on the template for the more gutteral, thrashier school of rock, Canadian hair-spray botherers Anvil were forced to watch as their adoring peers left them in their wake. Now down to the two founding members, frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, the pair defy receding hairlines and dwindling audiences to strive for the glory they felt should be theirs.
When not turning things up to 11, Lips makes ends meet by working for a catering company, his colleagues unaware of his former glory, when he performed to tens of thousands at an 80s Japanese rock festival. When a promoter sets up a tour of Europe, it offers a light at the end of Lips’ crappy tunnel, one he’s only too keen to grab. The tour instead offers an insight into how far they’ve fallen and the flaws that held them back.
Anvil is directed by long-term fan Sacha Gervaisi, and while it may have been his intention to help the band take their, arguably, deserved place in the rock pantheon, he actually gets a whole load more.
While the similarities with Spinal Tap are pretty overwhelming, Gervaisi seems to realise the connection is inevitable and embraces them, after all, Anvil came first and MUST have been an inspiration: Tap bass player Derek Smalls wears the same bondage top, while their track Big Bottoms sounds not a touch unlike Anvil’s Metal On Metal.
But Tap works as a template here, priming you for the rock cliché gags that bounce around the screen. But the rub is that the laughs are played off against the crushing sadness to immense effect, making you feel genuinely sorry for them and giving the film its kick.
Like the awesome American Movie before it (which I suggest you rabidly track down), which charted one man’s deluded quest to make a clearly shit horror movie, it’s Lips’ unshakeable devotion to a cruelly diminishing dream that leaves an impression.
We may get kicks from his plight for 90 minutes, but it’s Lips’ whole life, which is no laughing matter. Lips himself is a great subject, flipping from a highly strung diva one moment to a new age hippy puppy the next, like some kinda of guitar-toting David Banner/Hulk combo.
The point of a documentary is to highlight a human truth – and though on the surface it’s a rough and ready trawl through Devil’s Horns country, underneath it’s a look at how important it is to have a dream and whether anyone has the right to take that dream away from you.
Capturing the glorious overblown essence of metal would have made Anvil watchable enough, but the depth of emotion on show here, along with the highs and lows of life on the road. Funny, moving, heartfelt and oddly touching, Anvil is essential viewing.
Starring: Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner.
Directed by: Sacha Gervaisi
Extras: commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes.