Sunday, July 20, 2008 @ 1:28 PM
Film Fest review
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(Courtesy of KJ Doughton (FilmThreat)
He-man headbangers beware: “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” will make you weep like a little girl… or at least tear up like some sissy, emo-band singer. Sacha Gervasi’s amazing film follows Anvil, the criminally overlooked, undersold fire-forgers from Toronto, Canada. Ultimately, the movie emerges as a tearjerker about enduring friendships and male bonding. In addition to having all of its audio amps cranked to eleven, “Anvil” is charged by some serious emotional wattage as well. It’s tragic, joyful, sad, and hopeful – possibly the most stirring look at this misunderstood genre ever made.
When we first meet Steve Kudlow, he’s onstage in Japan, decked out in so many leather straps and steel links he looks caught in a crab pot. It’s 1984. Metal and big hair are king, and Kudlow’s band, Anvil, provides both. We watch the quartet playing one of those ridiculously massive neo-Woodstock fests with mile-long crowds that coat the surrounding landscape like some apocalyptic infection.
As “Lips,” Kudlow’s id-powered, onstage alter ego, the theatrical frontman is brandishing a white dildo, using the spongy sex toy to pluck his guitar. “Metal on metal,” snarls Lips between bouts of marital-aid musicianship. “It’s the only way!” Behind him, drummer Robb Reiner brutalizes a double-bass trapset, while other band members lift and drop their guitars in carefully choreographed, twin-axe-attack synch.
Cranking out riffs at festivals with Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi! Laying down a brain-impaling collection of albums, including “Hard ‘n Heavy,” “Metal on Metal,” and “Strength of Steel”! Winning the adulation of cutting-edge peers like Anthrax, Metallica, and Slayer! Anvil was going places.
Or were they? Flash-forward to the present. Something’s not right. While power-chord peers Metallica have racked up nearly a hundred million records sold, Kudlow and Reiner still struggle. Day jobs include delivering coolers of food for a catering service, and demolishing construction sites. Fame never came.
“There’s all this horrible shit,” Kudlow laments while loading a van with orders from Choice Children’s Catering. After work, however, he still has music to give him “the joy and pleasure you need to get through life.” Gervasi’s film gives us a vivid look at blue-collar lifestyles in Toronto. Kudlow celebrates his 50th birthday in a cozy tavern, with fanatical Anvil fans like Mad Dog and Cut Loose. Another guest inhales a beer through his nose. A spouse presents the metal muso with a cake inscribed, “Happy Fucking Fifty.” Yeah, it’s a far cry from penthouse suites and limousines, but there’s a joyful sense of warmth and family in these early scenes.
Later, Anvil endures a horrifically jinxed European tour, in which non-paying venue owners, missed trains, and disappointing crowds spell out certain doom. At a Transylvanian metalfest booked into a 10,000-capacity venue, only 174 attendees show up. “How much more love could one person put into something?" asks a despairing Kudlow, to someone, somewhere. It’s like a plea to the Almighty for vindication after thirty years of relentless hard work.
Sound depressing? Well, here’s the extraordinary thing about “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” Even though the band endures a hell of humiliations that would make Spinal Tap wince, they doggedly continue to wave the Anvil flag. While the assumed stereotype is that most groups with their experience and histories make tons of dough, Kudlow and Reiner are painfully aware of the reality that “99.9% of bands never get paid.” They treat playing as a privilege. “When we’re on tour,” proclaims Kudlow, “we’re on vacation.”
In an age of cynical self-consciousness among rock bands and fans, these guys unconditionally, unquestionably eat, sleep, and breathe metal. In it for the money? Fuck, no – they have no money (Kudlow’s repeated mantra is, “We aren’t getting paid!”). In it for the chicks? Are you kidding? Kudlow and Reiner might be the horny lyrical scribes behind “Motormount,” and “Butter Bust Jerky,” but both are now married with children. “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” is inspiring because its heroes wholeheartedly believe in what they do, even after enduring a million reasons to lose faith.
Sadly, “Anvil” also suggests the reason for their debt-ridden obscurity. Kudlow and Reiner are too damn decent for fame. One scene shows Kudlow trying his hand at a telemarketing job, but he’s too honest to hard-sell customers during cold calls. Meanwhile, Reiner’s ironclad allegiance to his emotional, sometimes-infuriating comrade is a far cry from the legions of musicians willing to cut-and-run following the lure of a higher-paying gig.
In the end, we’re left staring with admiration and awe at these two amazingly persistent, longhaired dudes. If ever there was a band deserving of an honorary lifetime achievement in metallurgy award, Anvil is it. Meanwhile, screw Robert Downey Jr. Kudlow and Reiner are true Iron Men, and their friendship is forged in fire.