They say that in show business, you've got to have a gimmick. In the 80's, it wasn't enough to call yourself a heavy metal band. You had to have some sort of gimmick to stand out from the rest. That's why you saw the emergence of "hair bands" like Bon Jovi (who've since lost the long hair and are more of a pop-rock combo), and "glam bands" like Motley Crue & Twisted Sister.Anvil didn't fit into either of those categories. They were a group of average guys from Canada trying to make it big. The closest they had to a gimmick was lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow wearing a bondage collar and using a dildo on his guitar. Kudlow and drummer/co-founder Robb Reiner had been friends since they were teens, and despite the arguments and disputes that come with the territory, they stuck it out, never giving up the dream.
photo by Brent J. Craig.
"Anvil: The Story of Anvil" opens with the band sharing a bill at a 1984 concert with the Scorpions, Whitesnake (who'd actually break through 3 years later), and Bon Jovi, who were just starting out and had released their debut album. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich may have actually hit the nail on the head when he suggested that maybe what held Anvil back was the fact they were from Canada. The Great White North had given us in the 80's acts as diverse as Triumph, Bryan Adams, April Wine, and the McKenzie Brothers. Triumph was the closest thing to a metal band that Canada had to offer, though Anvil kept pounding on the door. What hurt Anvil more was a glaring lack of faith from the independent labels that signed them, and poor management. Yet still they soldiered on.
Anvil's story, really, is no different than the dozens, nay, hundreds of bands of every genre trying to make it in the business every day, every year. All the hard work that goes into cutting demos, rehearsing, booking gigs, etc., has to have a payoff somewhere. It's the fact that Anvil had been on the doorstep of fame 25 years ago, then disappeared practically overnight, that makes this story, coupled with Kudlow's unwavering vision. It speaks to the blue collar, aspiring musicians who've endured the same hardships, though perhaps not as extreme as Anvil's, in their quests to make the big time. Rating: A.
Hobbyfan adds: "I happen to think that the target audience in our market (mostly aspiring musicians), if they haven't seen it, will wait for the DVD. That's where this film will make most of its money."
For my part, the movie reminded me a lot of The Wrestler, though that may just have been because of all the hair. I think Hobbyfan has the right perspective on the band's predicament. I watched the film wondering what was exceptional about them that they didn't make it when their apparent peers did. I was looking for a "why" that the film never really decides upon. But Hobby reminds us that Anvil really belongs to the great majority that never make it, though they came closer than many. The band and by extension director Sacha Gervasi blame their failure (to date) on poor management and poor production, but that really begs as many questions as it answers. My own view is that, from what I heard of the songs, Kudlow is just a crap lyricist, but whether he's really much worse than more successful writers I can't say. In any event, I don't judge the movie by the case it made, but by the picture it presents, and Anvil is an often hilariously tragicomic portrait of perseverance in pursuit of fame. The band's travels in Europe, Asia and Canada give the film some of the flavor of an old-school mondo movie, and it raises some of the same questions about whether dramatic scenes were really spontaneous or whether events were manipulated by knowledge of the documentary being made. Those questions don't stop the film from being very entertaining, whether you come out liking Anvil or not.
Here's a British trailer, uploaded by WorksUK