By Sean Palmerston
One of the most discussed and praised rock and roll documentaries of the past few years has been Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Financed and produced by Sacha Gervasi, a motion picture screenwriter that has worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks amongst others, Gervasi has a history with the members of Anvil that goes back to first meeting them on their Metal On Metal 1982 UK tour, befriending them and then later roadie-ing for them on tour. Realizing they were still together as an active group sometime around 2005, more than twenty years after their first encounter, he pitched the idea to Anvil’s central and longest standing members Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, who formed the band under the name Lips back in 1977, to make a film about them documenting why he thought they were such a special band.
Instead of going and getting major film studio backing for the film, Gervasi instead decided to finance the film himself. Actually, I guess it would be better said that Gervasi knew there was little chance of a major studio backing the project, so he stuck his own neck out believing it was a story that needed to be told. After all, Anvil weren’t exactly on the radar of the current music scene. While the band has always been active in the metal underground in a consistent way since approximately 1981, the days of the mainstream media paying any attention to the band were long gone. I can admit from personal experience as a metal writer that has been working for both Canadian and international publications since 1995 that any mention of the band to editors for anything other than an album review was immediately shot down in flames. The days of major interviews on the band anywhere outside of the most devoted underground metal magazines were unfortunately and sadly almost non-existent; their albums were no longer stocked or distributed in the wide channels that their early Attic Records releases were.
Taking all of this into consideration makes the magnitude of the impact that this film has made even that much more impressive.
Gervasi and his crew did an amazing job following the Toronto based band through nearly two years in time which saw Lips turn 50, the band partake in a gruelling 40+ day tour of Europe that most upstart bands would never have the fucking balls to continue on with till completion, record their thirteenth album and then try to find a major label to release it before going and doing it themselves. It’s a tale of passion and of having the drive to want to succeed no matter the cost, but even more than that it is the story of two close friends whose lives have become so intertwined since their chance meeting as teenagers that they have a brotherly bond which has made them even closer and more determined than most true siblings could ever hope to be. It is both a sad and uplifting tale ripe with emotion that leaves the viewer entertained, metal fan or not.
I could wax poetic about this film for at least ten thousand words, as I really think that despite what some naysayers may think, it is a real genius piece of film-making. I knew that when I went to cover the Toronto debut of it at the 2008 Hot Docs Film Festival for Metal Maniacs and witnessed a sold out Winter Garden Theatre – rammed full with more movie critics and fans than metal heads – give the film a standing ovation upon its completion. The bottom line is that even if you are not an Anvil fan – or a metal fan – or even a music fan – that Anvil: The Story of Anvil is such a compelling, amazing film that you don’t need to know anything about these dudes going into it to absolutely get sucked into it. Big time. And now that it is available on DVD as well, I really think that everyone that reads Hellbound.ca needs to get the fuck off their ass and go out and at least rent this for a night and watch it (although I think you’d be better off buying it even if you thought that Speed Of Sound or Plugged In Permanent weren’t worth their weight, har har).
The DVD has some really cool bonus features included that make picking it up even more desirable. First off, there is a full commentary available for the whole movie done by Gervasi, Kudlow and Reiner that is both funny as well as very informative about the actual making of the flick. It goes along way as to describing how things came together, how the main cameraman hired for the film lived very close to the Kudlow home and was often over there in minutes to capture stuff on film. It was pretty refreshing to find this out, because I have to admit that as much as I love this film, I did find parts of it to be a little bit too convenient. Like yeah, there just happens to be a camera at Lips’ house when CT calls him about producing the record, and a few other moments similar in the film when you think ‘there’s no fucking way this actually happened,’ they go into detail explaining that this shit really did happen to them and that they couldn’t make it up if they wanted to. If this stuff really was scripted, then I guess the three did a great job bullshitting through the commentary track, but I somehow doubt it.
Other cool bonus features include some deleted pieces from the film that went further into the world of the catering company that Lips worked for during its filming. You find out that Anvil bassist Glen Five also worked there and that there were a lot of very interesting characters feeding the youth of Rexdale, Scarborough and North York. Lord help us all! There are also neat features with former members Ian Dickson and Dave Allison. I had a roommate during my university years living in Toronto that worked with Dickson at a comic book distribution company right after he quit Anvil, so I knew about his model building skills already (he makes some really incredible Godzilla scale models!), but I had no idea what had happened to Allison and found that part to be really interesting. There is also a live song filmed in Japan with Gervasi on drums with the band doing “School Love,” which basically only goes to show he’s no Robb Reiner behind the kit (which I already figured out, since he once did drum for that crappy UK alternative band Bush X).
The final feature – and possibly most interesting bonus feature on the disc, depending on your level of NWOBHM worship/geekery – is the entire interview that was filmed with Lars Ulrich. Although originally he was only willing to take ten minutes to speak to them about the band, Ulrich got caught up in the whole thing and goes off about Anvil, metal, Kerrang! Magazine’s influence in the early years and just how influential Robb Reiner was on metal drumming. The piece is not for everyone, lord knows I couldn’t get my wife to sit through it even once, but for the metal obsessed it’s worth watching at least two-and-a-half times. There’s a lot of extra viewing being offered up and it’s not going to be as interesting to everyone out there, but if you’ve read this far I am pretty sure you’ll enjoy the time spent on the bonuses too.
I really think that even though I wouldn’t give any of their albums after Forged In Fire anything higher than a seven out of ten that this DVD deserves full marks and that this is an absolute must have for every discerning metal fan as well as fans of good film in general. I think that the company that released this DVD, VH1 Classic Films, made a mistake by not including either the This Is Thirteen album or a sampler CD that stretches Anvil’s career in the package along with the DVD – I really think that would have gone a long way to help their music reach an even broader audience – but even without it this has to be the rock and roll documentary of 2009 and for that Anvil: The Story of Anvil is getting a big fat ten out of ten, my first on Hellbound.ca. If you don’t agree, leave a comment with valid reasons why, ’cause I’d love to hear what makes you think otherwise.
(VH1 Classic Films)