At age 14, two nice Jewish boys from the snowy suburbs of Toronto named Robb Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow bonded over their love of heavy metal music. They made a pact to form a band, play some kick-ass music and keep on rockin’ until they become old men—all of which, true to their word, they have done. If you’ve never heard of Reiner and Kudlow’s lifelong labor of love, the self-proclaimed “demigods of Canadian metal” known as Anvil, don’t feel too bad. Few people have. Ask the right headbanging veteran, though—as Sacha Gervasi’s love letter documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil does—and you’re likely to get a nostalgic lecture. Lemmy from Motörhead, Slash from Guns N' Roses, Lars Ulrich from Metallica, Scott Ian from Anthrax, they all agree: Anvil is the real deal. The band’s seminal 1981 album “Metal on Metal” predated the work of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth and helped birth the outrageous spandex-and-leather era of MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” and beyond.
Despite widespread industry respect, a three-decade career and a dozen albums to their name, Anvil has somehow managed to deftly avoid both fame and fortune. And yet Reiner and Kudlow, now well into their 50s, are still hard at work—slaving away at day jobs, raising families, rocking out at night and patiently waiting for their band’s “big break.”
Anvil! The Story of Anvil gives us a brief history lesson and a few talking-head comments by the above-named superstars just to set the stage, but it’s largely uninterested in dry, documentary-style facts. Anvil! would rather show its story than tell it, so the director (an actual Anvil roadie from back in the day) catches up with the band as it attempts to launch a massive European tour. (Don’t call it a comeback, these boys never left!) The tour is booked with the help of an enthusiastic Italian fan named Tiziana Arrigoni. Unfortunately, Arrigoni’s enthusiasm outshines her managerial skills (not to mention her English language skills), and the tour eventually descends into utter chaos. Watching the outrageous behind-the-scenes failures that unfold, you’ll quickly realize This is Spinal Tap has got nothing on these boys. There are moments in Anvil! The Story of Anvil when you won’t know whether to laugh or cry. But you will, at some point, do a little of each.
Although it might seem, on the surface, like a demoralizing and cautionary tale about the fickle nature of Lady Fame, Anvil! winds up being a surprisingly touching and inspirational story. Maybe the boys in Anvil didn’t make it big, but they didn’t sell out and they didn’t give up. And in the music industry, that’s a rare kind of success. The one element that holds this film’s real-life narrative together is the never-say-die friendship of Reiner and Kudlow. They’ve known each other for nearly 40 years. They’re like brothers. They occasionally fight, but their love for one another is solid as, well, a rock. It’s all about the unwavering support of loyal friends and long-suffering family members—or, as Reiner puts it simply, “Family’s important shit, man.” Watching Anvil!, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of this scrappy, can’t-win-for-losing story. You really do want these guys to succeed. If anybody deserves it—for sheer stick-to-itiveness if nothing else—the committed metalheads of Anvil do.
Can a film be headbanging and tear-jerking at the same time? Anvil! The Story of Anvil proves it. Even if you have no interest in the genre known as heavy metal, you’ll find yourself sucked in by the artistic passion, the painful humor and the “never give up on your dream” drama of this rockin’ doc.
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