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I used to be a metal kid. It allowed both an aggressive faux self priority and a distorted wading pool to wallow in regret and self-pity. It's all very egocentric, and in an ear-raping kind of way. These two contrasting emotional depths are the core game of Pong going on within the Anvil!: The Story of Anvil documentary, conceived and directed by long-time fan Sacha Gervasi. In the universe, there are untold amounts of stars whose shine has faded and have imploded unto themselves (science websites agree!), and the same can be said in popular music of any kind. It's not always something to try to achieve, but don't tell that to Anvil.
Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner are Anvil, goddammit! Let me hear you scream! Whoa, sorry. Slash, Lemmy, and Lars Ulrich just told me I should love this band, and now I do! Well not really, but this flick is a damned find piece of entertainment. It's been a rolling log of publicity on both film and music sites, and deservedly so, for the most part. It is just about the best "local sports team" or "debate club" or "kayaking squad" movie out there, only it's about heavy metal, spans 30 years instead of a semester, and is too real the entire time. And The Sandlot will always be the best underdog movie.
Lips and Reiner started the Toronto-based band when they were in their teens, and pieces fell into place that landed them on major tours and record labels. The film starts with those talent-touting stars of metal ripping on how influential Anvil was and how heavy they were, and still are. There's a Japan festival used as kind of a wrap-around plot point. And then, in immediate contrast, we meet the men that Lips and Reiner came to be: work-a-day everymen whose passion never died. There are spots with early members of the band, and then current members. There is local footage from their initial stint in the limelight, and talking-head spots with family members. There is, of course, live footage of the band in different places, and from all this, in the first 20 minutes, you still never get the feeling that anybody believes in Anvil more than Lips himself. It continues throughout and kind of makes the movie as endearing as it is. Think of how a child feels about an admittedly crappy picture they've drawn. You can't tell the kid his picture is just lines, can you?
The first part of the film deals with a European tour, far removed from the bar scene the guys have gotten used to. The tour manager manages to flub many travel and booking details, so it's a disturbing look at just how wrong things can go for those who live to entertain. Highlights include a late arrival and subsequent payment-snubbing at a club in Prague, and we get our first look at how intrinsically insane Lips is. We could probably get this from the fact that he only calls himself Lips, even while acknowledging that "Lips" is only an onstage persona. But yeah, he goes buck on a club owner, and this same behavior comes up later, aimed at Reiner. There is much animosity thrown at Reiner from his bandmate, in areas of band confidence and critical voice. It's hard to knock Reiner for his reservations; the band is unsuccessful and busts a lot of ass with little to show for it. But then, what would have been the point all along?
After the tour, the staid reality of normal life kicks back in. We get to know more about the guys (Reiner is a fine artist) via backstories and intimate conversations. Album producer Chris Tsangarides is introduced through old promotional footage as the guy behind Anvil's first records. He comes back into their lives after Lips sends him demo material. Money has to be raised in order to work with him, and it presents a second arc. And then the actual production and subsequent problems that arise take up some of the rest, until an eventual un-resolution at a big show in Japan. It's a strength to the reality of the documentary that it came from a fan's obsession, and there was no foreknowledge of most of the filmed events.
This is not a satire on the industry or anything with a life-defining message, other than the story of this band. They're 50-year-old guys who can't afford a comfortable life, and would rather live out their mental pleasures than material ones. Lips is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to "do-or-die" mentalities. If he were a mountain climber, he would start at the bottom of the ocean. Everyone believes that there will be a pot of gold, or at least bronze, at the end of the rainbow, based solely on the devotion of its members, but doesn't tell the audience that it will do anything other than create more frustration when things fall through. People have to buy records in order to make a band famous (or see well-made documentaries about said band), regardless of how many casual fans it is. Hard work gets you these fans, though, and Anvil deserves its international fan base. Last note: despite the motherfucking beast of a drummer that Robb Reiner is, and the monster-riffs that Lips and Co. come out with, I'll never get over the fact that Lips, as a singer, is shit. As a performer, he's great, but....they're just lines.
It's strange: even the 27-year-old concert footage on this disc looks better than things I've seen in recent memory. It sounds great, down to every time Lips says "tooor" instead of "tour." The camera-work all around is very simple and keeps everything in a fine focus, and it all looks almost too high quality for these guys. David Norland's emotion-drawing score isn't so subtle, but never hits a wrong note, and draws emotion out of seemingly impartial footage. And there are French-Canadian subtitles. Excuse me, only French-Canadian subtitles.
The commentary with the British Gervasi (dyslexic Office fans don't be fooled), Reiner, and Lips is light and filled with incidental details that enrich the viewing and appreciation for the band. I was interested to hear how the bandmates would comment on the really awkward scenes of the movie, and they handled it with a humbled aplomb. Friends don't let friends drive bands into the ground with their manic pride.
The other few extras are so-so. There are three deleted scenes. One is a longer bit with the workers at the catering company where Lips is employed, and the other two are just small pieces of other scenes. There's an enormous Funk and Wagnall's entry on Anvil (sarcasm), as dictated by Lars Ulrich, under the guise of an interview. And there's a performance of "School Girl" in Japan, with Sacha Gervasi sitting in on the drums. Enjoyable. It's always fun to see lots of Japanese people like sections of the American culture that I can't even relate to.
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