#128 Anvil! The Story Of Anvil

(2008, Sacha Gervasi)

“Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”

So, remember This Is Spinal Tap? Well, here’s a movie that’s basically the real thing. Anvil! is, as the title suggests, the story of Anvil, a Canadian metal band who shared a stage with Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi at Super Rock Festival in Japan in the 80s. All of those bands went on to sell millions of records and gain worldwide success, except for Anvil.

And so, film-maker Sacha Gervasi, one of their few die-hard fans, went and tracked them down to make a documentary about where they are now. And this is the result.

The problem with this movie is simply that I couldn’t see why the hell it’s on a “Movies To See Before You Die” list. It’s got very little that would appeal to those who aren’t fans of metal, and generally doesn’t feel like it’s that well-made either. Sure, if you’re into your metal, you might enjoy this, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of lacklustre.

The main issue I had with the movie is that I wasn’t entirely clear of what it was trying to show us. Yes, it’s a “where are they now?” documentary about a less successful metal band, but there’s nothing specific driving the movie beyond that. The movie opens with the band getting excited about a specially booked European tour which is shown for a while and then switches to their desperation to record a new album and do well with it. Nothing was consistent, and while, yes, it’s a documentary, a little driving force would have been nice.

The problem is, there are so many shifts in focus. The movie starts out interviewing successful metal musicians about their experience with Anvil, before dropping this entirely to show the band working in mundane jobs, and then suddenly we’re whisked away onto a disastrous European tour that we speed through before suddenly the focus becomes the new album they plan on recording. It seems like the album was the big focus but the fact it takes half the movie to get there is a little troubling.

Anvil! does have some charm, mind. There are some genuinely amusing moments (“the place is jam-fucking-packed!” – cut to three people milling around in an otherwise empty bar), some sweet moments (such as when lead singer Lips’ sister provides the finance required for the album recording) and some moments where I was kind of hooked in (the discussion of the future of recorded music, the awe-inspiring shots of Japan with a voiceover about never giving up on your dreams). I also enjoyed the throwback to the European tour at a large Japanese gig towards the end that actually does get “jam-fucking-packed”.

The problem is, these moments are fleeting, and far too often Gervasi’s direction tries to take us down as many paths as possible at the same time. I’m not sure if he was trying to make a real documentary that drew influence from Spinal Tap (the drummer sharing a name with Tap’s director did NOT help – seriously, check those credits), or if we had to feel sorry for the terrible career the band had drawn out for themselves. Was the focus the disastrous touring, or the new album recording?

Of course, probably didn’t help that I have no interest in heavy metal, and as such I spent much of the time during the gig footage zoning out a little waiting for it to end.

Still, I will hand it to the movie, it certainly feels like a lot of love went into it. The director even shows off how big a fan of the band he is during the end credits via a photo of him and Lips in their teens. And there was something endearing about seeing a group of musicians willing to sacrifice everything to achieve their dreams, especially since they were all real people.

It’s just baffling that a film with such limited appeal has made it onto my list of “films you must see”. If you’re into metal, or even better, a fan of the band themselves, then by all means check this out. If your favourite eighties band was Duran Duran, then you can easily give this a miss.

Starring Steve Kudlow & Robb Reiner
Produced by Rebecca Yeldham
Music score by Anvil
Cinematography by Christopher Soos
Edited by Andrew Dickler & Jeff Renfroe

Favourite Scene: I loved the decision to self-release their album and the discussion about the future of the music industry, and that bit certainly caught my attention.
Scene That Bugged Me: Much of the European tour didn’t make sense being included until long after it was shown, so some better editing would have helped there.

Watch it if: You enjoy headbanging
Avoid it if: Metal, to you, is just what your car is made out of

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Posted on October 18, 2012, in 2000s, Documentary. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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