Friday, April 10, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)

When I saw Anvil! The Story of Anvil at a packed festival screening, I was seated behind a couple with so much body odor I had tears in my eyes. I had to watch the whole film with my fingers blocking my nostrils as best as I could. What does this say about the movie? Nothing, really, other than that it explains why my excitement about the movie is slightly tempered, although the movie’s a good one. It tells the story of two aging heavy-metal rockers who make up Anvil, a band, we’re told, that was very influential and nearly popular once. We follow these two men, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb (with two Bs) Reiner, as they attempt a comeback tour and record their thirteenth album. The title? This is Thirteen.

The director, Sacha Gervasi, does a pretty good job of telling the story, knowing when to punch up the editing to really sell a joke in ways that seem learned from the school of mockumentaries, of which This is Spinal Tap seems to be a reference point. The comparisons between the two films are uncanny; surely someone thought of that comedy classic when Anvil visits Stonehenge. But unlike Spinal Tap, this film is a real documentary and while the people on screen say funny things they are also sad, worried, and moving testaments to the power of dreams. If most men live lives of quiet desperation, these men have found a way to live lives of rockin’ desperation. When the band kicks up their signature song “Metal on Metal” it’s almost anthemic, a love letter to middle-age rockers everywhere who still dream of making it big someday.

The movie does a fine job of not always going for the obvious jokes; there's no jokey editing or juxtaposition occurring during their tour where they miss trains, are denied payment, play shows for audiences that reach the double digits on a good night, and are given a front row seat to the nervous breakdown of their number-one-fan turned manager. Where Gervasi disappoints is in his fanboy gloss, which tends to paint the band in a positive light. This is not presented as a warts-and-all portrait but rather presented as a portrait of two talented guys screwed over by circumstance and I’m not sure how much of that’s true. The bias’s origin is clear, however, since Gervasi was the band’s roadie for some tours in the early 80s. Still, as a fan’s tribute, the movie works much better than expected. The subjects are remarkably candid, if not always remarkably lucid ,and the events that take place are the perfect illustration of the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Well, let’s put it this way. Here the truth is almost stranger than Spinal Tap.

I’m not a heavy metal fan, but by the end of the film when – mild spoiler – the band finally plays for a large crowd, I felt a surge of excitement and relief. They didn’t make it big but at least they made it somewhere. And no amount of bad smells could make me stop feeling happy for them.

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