Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Starring Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Chris Tsangarides
Release date: October 6, 2009
In the big hair and spandex-filled summer of 1984, a huge music tour took Japan by storm. A collection of the world’s biggest metal bands like Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi were on the bill. Also sharing the stage was Anvil, a young band gaining notoriety and respect thanks to their incredible musicianship and a lead singer who enjoyed playing his guitar with a dildo. After this tour the bands involved continued their ascent to rock stardom each selling millions of records and playing sell-out tours. All, that is, except Anvil. For them it didn’t work out and never again would they reach those heights.
In Anvil! The Story of Anvil metal icons like Scott Ian (Anthrax), Slash (Guns n Roses), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), and Lemmy (Motorhead) talk about how highly they rated Anvil. In the early 80s, Anvil was the band they wanted to emulate, the band that made them perform better, and afterwards the band that they couldn’t believe didn’t make it. But, as Lemmy says here, “You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.” Anvil never was. After Japan Anvil could have given up playing, content to live off their 15 minutes of fame, ready to tell the grandkids about that brief moment in time they were rock stars. But no: In the decades since, the band has continued to play live shows, record albums and attract new fans. Anvil! The Story Of Anvil documents the band as they continue to try and ‘make it’ and record their 13th studio album, This Is Thirteen.
One of the biggest misconceptions I’m met with when I talk about Anvil! is the idea that you must like ‘the metal’ to enjoy watching it. This is not true. The fact that it is about a metal band is absolutely what got me interested. I’m a big fan of metal music and I’ll watch just about anything that involves bands of the genre, but I soon realised that this was not just about metal music. The trials and tribulations of a struggling metal band — but more than that, best friends — are laid out in unflinching detail.
Lead singer and lead guitarist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow is honest and loyal and gives very candid interviews about himself, his family, and his best friend, Anvil’s drummer Robb Reiner. He is not afraid to show his emotions on camera; when he talks about his band and his desire to get it and his bandmates (including guitarist Ivan Hurd and bass player Glenn ‘G5’ Five) to where they want to go, his passion is frightfully real and stunning to see in someone still so passionate about what they do. It’s one thing to talk about fighting with your best friend, it’s another thing to actually do it on camera. He admits he is an emotional person and he wants the album recording to go well so much so the anxieties and frustrations get the better of him and he takes it out on the person he is closest to. Lips, after having Reiner pinned up against a wall, screams, shouts, and cries at him in his state of exasperation. You feel just how important this is for him. Everyone has put their faith in Lips and the weight of expectation sometimes gets too much for him to bear. Reiner is also fiercely loyal to Lips. He may quit the band from time to time, but he can never stay mad enough to follow it through. He would also prevent Lips from throwing himself off a cliff if he had to. They may show it in different ways — Reiner is far more laid back physically than Lips — but both feel the same.
What really endears the audience to these guys is they continue to pursue their ideal of rock stardom but they recognise their responsibilities to their families and work full time jobs. They work jobs they don’t particularly like, treating them as a stop-gap, something to pay the bills until their band takes off. Lips’ and Reiner’s families are amazing. For 30 years they have stuck by them; they could have told them to get a ‘real job’ when money was tight — which it still is — and they may not all agree with the life they have chosen to pursue but they know that is what makes them who they are. And they love them for it.
Another misconception about the movie comes from people’s assumption that middle-aged guys with long hair in a film makes them a Spinal Tap rip-off. It would be easy for director Sacha Gervasi to make Reiner and Lips look like comedy characters and for people — especially those who don’t care for metal music — to laugh at them: middle-aged men with long hair, dressing like teenagers still wanting to be rock stars. But that just isn’t true. The movie makes you realise that when it comes to pursuing your dreams, age is irrelevant. If you have the desire to do something, do it. Dismissing them as shallow, unintelligent rock stars would be doing the whole experience a huge injustice. But of course, following a band with a good sense of humour and fun (Lips used to play his guitar with a dildo. Reiner has a painting of a giant turd in a toilet bowl in his house. Trying to navigate their way around Europe and their managers broken English), there are some laughs to be had.
For This Is Thirteen, they once again get in touch with producer Chris Tsangarides, who recorded their first three albums — Hard n Heavy, Metal On Metal, and Forged In Fire. Anvil struggled to get the money together to fund this album because like most people, they didn’t have $12,000 lying around and one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is when they finally get the money. If you loved the movie as much as I did I would highly recommend you get a copy of This Is Thirteen. It is a brilliant metal album, really sounds fantastic. In a time when many bands are happy to change their image and music in search of that elusive popularity and record sales, Anvil has stayed completely true to the music they believe in.
One of the reasons Lips and Reiner are scratching their heads as to why they haven’t become successful is because they are still terrific musicians. Reiner plays the drums with the energy of someone half his age and at a level of skill that I don’t believe many others are capable of. Lips is a killer guitarist who knows all the tricks and could write an instant classic of a metal song in his sleep, complete with lightning fast solo. Anvil has never made any money and they constantly refer to the idea that this might be their last chance. But I don’t believe that. If they haven’t made it in 30 years, why give up now? If they did they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. Anvil is what keeps them going. Metal is what keeps them alive.
I know this is a major spoiler for the people who have not yet seen the movie, but I have to mention the ending. When Lips receives a call promising a show in Tokyo, Japan, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be another let down, another empty promise. I watched it hoping that Lips wouldn’t get his hopes up too high; it hasn’t worked for him so far. Sure enough, Anvil is playing a rock festival and is going on stage first at the dreaded time of 11am. The stadium has a capacity of 20,000 — this could be a disaster. And yet… when Anvil walks onto that stage and is greeted by a rapturous crowd at full capacity, all cheering, singing, headbanging along my bottom lip started to tremble and my eyes got watery: it is a beautiful, perfect ending that no ‘feel-good’ movie could even hope to replicate with any conviction; sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Oh, and you’ll be humming Metal On Metal for weeks.
DVD Bonus Features
Deleted Scenes: Almost all the deleted scenes are about Lips: he removes his mother’s washing machine, talks about his working life (4 jobs max), nightmares about his ex-wife, and in an interview with Jethro ‘Iron Fist’ Hirsch, head of Anvil security, reveals yet another reason why he can’t just stop playing in Anvil. Disbanding would not only affect the band but all the people who surround it — head of security, the fans. Lips loves meeting new people through the band. He knows what it would be like to have one of his rock heroes (he uses Ted Nugent as an example) come and talk to him after a show and get a chance to hang out with them. During filming Lips’ brother was diagnosed with a neuro degenerative disease. Lips remains philosophical as he tries to deal with this bombshell to his close family.
Interviews: Where Are They Now with Dave ‘Squirrely’ Allison, Anvil guitarist ’80-’89 and Ian ‘Dix’ Dickson, bass player ’80-’93 who now owns a workshop making models (he shows us Rutger Hauer and an impressive Cap’n Jack Sparrow piece). These guys were with the band from the beginning and experienced it at its peak.
Lars Ulrich talks about his admiration for the band and his memories of discovering them. As you might expect of Ulrich, he is very talkative and extremely candid. Stick around for the end.
This Feels Good – Lips, Reiner, and G5 at the 12 Bar Club in London talk about the history of the band, how they met director Sacha Gervasi (they go back 20-something years) and how the film came about and their reactions to it. Lips is again on form; he is immensely proud of his band and is completely engaging.
Sacha Rocks With Anvil: At the show in Japan at the end of the movie, Lips invites the director onstage to play drums on ‘School Love’.
A couple of trailers for the movie and two very interesting audio commentaries with Gervasi (did you know Anthrax started out as an Anvil cover band?). One he is joined by producer Rebecca Yeldham and editor Andrew Dickler. The other with Lips and Reiner. Surprisingly, they seem quite restrained as if they don’t like to talk about what’s happening onscreen. When they do talk they are honest as usual.