Indie Film Review – Anvil! The Story of Anvil
When you think of great rock bands, which ones do you think of? The Rolling Stones? U2? The Who? How about a band called “Anvil?” Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is an independent documentary by Sacha Gervasi featuring this band, and may be one of the best portrayals of the other side of the music industry. Whenever we look on TV or listen on the radio, we are exposed to the musical artists that have made it big; that have gotten that big contract and have made millions of dollars doing what they love. Things didn’t go so well for Anvil.
The film features the two main members of the band: drummer Robb Reiner and lead guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow. The two have been friends since they were fourteen, meeting due to a common love for heavy metal music. They would team up to create the band, and vowed to play until they were old men. Early into the movie we see them playing in Japan in the early eighties, in front of thousands of fans, alongside some of the great metal bands of the time. This would be the height of their popularity. Flash forward to the present, and we find the two now old men, with Lips working as a driver delivering meals to schools and Robb working in construction.
Although many heavy metal bands have credited Anvil as being a major influence on their music, Anvil themselves never reached the fame and fortune that their contemporaries did. Although their music was considered very good, misrepresentation, bad management, and lackluster distribution prevented them from reaching that next level. Now they have to work these menial jobs to provide for their families. But, that does not deter them from continuing to live their dream of being rock superstars, continuing to tour, play shows, and work on new material. The film features them going on tour to Europe and producing their newest album, both not going as smoothly as anticipated.
Their experience is the definition of “playing for the love of music,” because there is a lot of struggle and heartache that these guys go through. The stress of life in a tiny Winnebago, missing connecting trains, not getting paid for their gigs, and playing to mediocre crowds. At one point, Lips exclaims that a venue they’re playing at can fit over 10,000 people, but less than 200 show up. Although they have been together for almost thirty years, they still are not recognized by any major music label, and have to resort to hand delivering their demo CDs to them. Even Lips’ sister has to help contribute, because they cannot afford to pay for studio time themselves.
So we ask ourselves, “Why do these guys continue to do what they do?” Go no further than to actually see and hear these two talk on camera. Lips and Robb make an interesting duo: Lips with his energetic and almost explosive personality, and Robb with his more laid back and quiet demeanor. They are opposites, but share the common love for music. Few of us can actually say that we have the gusto to pursue our own passions, because the fear of failure prevents us from taking that extra step, but these two were able to squeeze it out for decades. There is absolutely nothing else that they would want to do, perhaps because there is nothing else they are actually good at. To play these shows in front of small crowds goes to show how much enthusiasm they have for their art. It is the spirit and love for music that compels them to push forward.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their ups and downs. Some of the more fascinating moments in the film come when they allow doubt and despair to get the better of them. Continuously throughout the film, Robb shares his fears of continuing with the band with nothing to show for it, he yearns to see something come out of it, which is understandable. When he sees a crowd of less then 20 people show up to their gig, he almost wants to put his drumsticks down and walk away. Lips, on the other side, has had to face a career of letdowns and disappointments, and during a very telling scene explains his thoughts of wanting to end it all, because all of the hard work they put in over the years have been looked over. But time and again, the other guy will be there to pick up and support his best friend, these two were truly meant to be together, one would not exist without the other.
And it is that which makes the film engaging; the surprising emotion that is brought here. The way these two guys face adversity head on despite the constant obstacles is very interesting to see. Even their families, although supportive and loving, have their doubts, and share their lack of optimism about two fifty year old guys playing music in a young man’s world. Their wives, though patient and understanding, are the ones that have to hold ground at home while they go off on the road, and explain to us that despite their wishes for the band to be successful, the loyalty to them and their children have to come first. It’s almost surprising just how emotional the film gets, there are many times where the people on screen tear up while being interviewed, which may be because this is the first time that they have actually had an opportunity to share their feelings on screen, letting out thoughts that have been pent up for years.
I have to admit that I am not a fan of heavy metal music, but I am an admirer of someone who would go through anything to do what they love. For the guys that make up Anvil, they have not reached the financial status of other bands, but they have survived against all odds, and have lasted longer than nearly any other musical group out there, rock or otherwise. Anvil! The Story of Anvil goes to show that no matter what, nothing is more fulfilling than following one’s passion; it is literally the story of the human spirit. You can say what you want about Anvil, but they are still here, still rocking out, and because of that, they are a success.
Final Grade: B+