Australia is going crazy for this documentary right now. Lips and Rob Reiner’s goofy mugs have been plastered across newspapers, tabloids and TV shows everywhere. Which is strange because when I saw this documentary at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year, no one was talking about it even though the screening was jam packed with middle aged metalheads sporting big hair and faded Megadeth t-shirts.
If you haven’t heard, Anvil are a Canadian metal band who, in the very early eighties, were on the cusp of super stardom before ‘the big four’ of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth crushed them in their wake. Almost thirty years on, Anvil’s founding members Steve “Lips” Kudlow (vocals, guitar) and Robb Reiner (drums) are still self-releasing records and playing the odd bar gig, while working shitty jobs to survive. They look like they’ve stepped out of a time machine from 1981.
Director Sacha Gervasi has culled three years of footage into a 90 minute doco that follows Anvil on their ‘final’ tour of Europe and the release of their ‘last’ album. This isn’t about the metal scene, it isn’t about stardom or excess, it’s about two guys refusing to give up on their dream no matter what. And it’s actually quite touching. As underdogs, you can’t help falling in love with Lips’ and Rob’s boyish charms and dedication to all things Rock. The fact they live in suburbia with wives and children adds a distinct humour to the situation.
Gervasi gets laughs by focusing heavily on the tragedies faced by the band, and creates drama out of the tension this causes amongst the band and their families. It’s slightly voyeuristic at times, like laughing at some unfortunate kid who doesn’t know better. Yet overall, the film’s message is a positive one and if the recent spout of publicity is anything to go by, it’s doing wonders for the band’s profile.
There is a distinct lack of questioning around why Anvil never crossed over from cult band to fame in the first place. While watching the film one starts to wonder if Gervasi steered away from the topic so as not to embarrass his ‘stars’. Early footage of Lips wearing the most ridiculous leotard and playing his guitar with a penetrative device made from rubber, suggests that the Anvil boys lacked the maturity and business nous of their peers.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a fantastic watch; funny, a little sad and definitely inspiring. Here’s hoping their current ten minutes of fame doesn’t leave them in the lurch, because although they seem like genuinely nice guys who deserve to have their hard work pay off, their outdated brand of Viking metal ain’t going to win them many fans outside of deep Europe. Highly recommended.