In the early ’80s, Canadian metal band Anvil were headlining rock festivals, releasing acclaimed albums and influencing the likes of Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica. 25 years later, the band have faded into obscurity, struggling to make ends meet but still trying to make it big.
Sacha Gervasi’s 2008 rockumentary follows vocalist and guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, whose name isn’t the only thing this movie has in common with This Is Spinal Tap. Footage of Lips playing his Flying V with a dildo reminds us just how accurate Spinal Tap is in its affectionate satire of rock music. Elements of Anvil! The Story of Anvil are so absurd that it could easily be a mockumentary, as the erstwhile “demi-gods of Canadian metal”, now in their 50s, lose their slot at a gig because they missed their train.
The level of pathos is turned up to 11; it’s sad to see such deluded middle-aged men trying to justify their ludicrous lifestyle with vague mantras about life, especially given the mediocrity of their music. One can’t help but feel sorry for their wives who thought the band were going to be a success, who now have to put up with all this nonsense. The fleeting and fickle nature of fame is hammered home by early images of Lips clad in S&M leather playing to a massive crowd, juxtaposed with his driving to some crappy day job or breaking down into tears. Anvil has much to say about the music industry, in which commitment, integrity and dedication simply aren’t enough.
Thanks to this documentary, Anvil have had something of a resurgence; according to Wikipedia, they’ve since made appearances at Download Festival, on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and supporting AC/DC. But what about all those bands struggling to get anywhere who aren’t lucky enough to be the subject of a highly praised rock-doc? It still seems misguided to encourage such blind pursuit of such impossible dreams; if Anvil teaches us anything it’s surely that sometimes we need to let these things go.
Either way, it’s a great rockumentary, which manages to be constantly funny without laughing at its hugely likeable subjects. An entertaining commentary on the music industry that never loses sight of the people at the film’s centre, this is an appealing music documentary with the insight of The Great Hip Hop Hoax, the humanity of Searching for Sugar Man and the absurdity of This Is Spinal Tap.