Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008, Director: Sacha Gervasi): I knew within the first five minutes of the film that I loved these guys, and it took about another five minutes for me to decide I was buy­ing a CD from them (NOTE: Available from either of the two links below). That’s not an easy sell. You see, I grew up here in Toronto, Anvil’s homet­own, dur­ing the 1980s, when the band had its closest brush with suc­cess. “Metal on Metal” was played on the radio here, and it’s quite pos­sible I watched some of the archival tele­vi­sion cov­er­age (some of it fea­tur­ing news anchor John Roberts, then known as J.D. Roberts) when it wasn’t archival. But I was no metal­head. I was into punk, and then new wave, and the metal “hair” bands of the 80s just seemed embar­rass­ingly uncool to me. In this film, that uncool­ness has been turned into charm. But it’s been a long hard road for Anvil.

Director Sacha Gervasi actu­ally met the band in London in 1982, and then decided to work as a roadie for them on a cross-Canada tour. He lost touch about 1985, and then, 20 years later, decided to look up his old friends on the inter­net. What he dis­covered amazed him. They hadn’t given up. In fact, they were still mak­ing records and play­ing bars, even if it was only to crowds of 100. Gervasi, mean­while, had trav­elled far from his metal roots. After attend­ing law school, he got involved in the film busi­ness, recently writ­ing the script for the Tom Hanks film The Terminal. He knew imme­di­ately he wanted to make a film about the band, and his per­sonal con­nec­tion with Anvil makes the film a lov­ing trib­ute.

Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner were two Jewish kids grow­ing up in Toronto in the 70s. They bon­ded over a love for the music of Black Sabbath and Grand Funk, and were soon writ­ing songs together. More than 30 years and sev­eral lineup changes later, they’re still mak­ing music together. The film is as much a por­trait of a lifelong friend­ship as it is about the cruelty of the music busi­ness. Through all the ups and (mostly) downs, Lips and Robb are like broth­ers. Gervasi picks up the story around 2005 when gui­tar­ist Ivan’s new Italian girl­friend Tiziana offers to arrange a European tour for them. Her pas­sion over­comes their reser­va­tions about her inex­per­i­ence, with pre­dict­able res­ults. Transportation prob­lems abound, and the crowds are always smal­ler than anti­cip­ated. Local pro­mo­tion doesn’t come through, and the band are rarely paid. Despite that, Lips remains upbeat, happy to be tour­ing at all.

After their return to Toronto, Anvil are ready to record their next album. They decide to approach engin­eer Chris Tsangarides, who recor­ded them early in their career, to see if he’s inter­ested in work­ing with them again. To their sur­prise, he’s inter­ested, and after bor­row­ing money from friends and fam­ily, the band fly to England to record their 13th album, clev­erly entitled “This is Thirteen.” Another round of con­flict between Robb and Lips ensues, but all ends in tear­ful hugs and the album is fin­ished. Lips buzzes that the band has never soun­ded as good. Despite that, they can’t get any record com­pan­ies inter­ested in releas­ing it, so they decide to go dir­ect and sell it them­selves.

Throughout it all, Robb and espe­cially Lips come across as incred­ibly open-hearted and even sweet guys. One mem­or­able scene has Lips, in an attempt to earn some money, work­ing as a tele­marketer. He doesn’t last very long before he con­fesses that he’s just too hon­est. His some­what goofy face may be the reason that the band never achieved the suc­cess of bands like Metallica or Anthrax or Slayer, but he’s incap­able of being any­one else. Now in their 50s, Robb and Lips still haven’t cut their thin­ning hair, and though they look a bit out of place among their broth­ers and sis­ters, their fam­il­ies (espe­cially their long-suf­fer­ing wives) have been incred­ibly patient, if not always sup­port­ive.

The film ends with a lovely grace note. After receiv­ing a call from a con­cert pro­moter in Japan, Anvil are invited to open a metal fest­ival in front of a poten­tial audi­ence of 20,000. Gervasi poignantly inserts foot­age from the Super Rock tour of Japan the band played in 1984, and I swear that the goofy grin on Lips’ face is even wider now than it was then. When the lights came up, I was sport­ing my own goofy grin, as well as a small lump in the throat.

If there was any­thing miss­ing from the film, it might be the absence of two of the three mem­bers of the unholy trin­ity of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Despite a ref­er­ence early on from Robb about hav­ing to throw away his drugs dur­ing a bor­der cross­ing in Europe, we never see any of the party­ing for which bands in gen­eral, and metal bands in par­tic­u­lar, were legendary. These guys can still rock out, clearly, but it would have been inter­est­ing to see if they still party like young guys.

Just as an aside, dur­ing Anvil’s brief hey­day in the early 80s, I was into a rocka­billy-punk band from Hamilton called Teenage Head. Their career has had a sim­ilar tra­ject­ory, with lots of missed chances at fame, and an endur­ing leg­acy as “also-rans” among bands with argu­ably much less tal­ent. Though I was never a roadie for them, this film has me think­ing of mak­ing “Teenage Head! The Story of Teenage Head.” Frankie and Legs, get in touch!

Here is the Q&A with dir­ector Sacha Gervasi and the band from after the screen­ing:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Duration: 12:10

Official site for the film
Official site of the band


This entry was posted in Documentaries, Film Festivals, Hot Docs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Anvil! The Story of Anvil

  1. James McNally says:

    The film opened in Toronto tonight (April 3rd) and is play­ing at the AMC at Yonge/Dundas. Hopefully it will spread to some other screens, but you def­in­itely should not miss the chance to see this great story.

    I saw it again a few weeks ago at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and Robb and Lips were there. The audi­ence loved it, of course. It’s open­ing in New York and Los Angeles on April 10 and hope­fully other places soon after­ward.

Comments are closed.