Director: Sacha Gervasi
Cast: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Chris Tsangarides, Slash, Lemmy, Scott Ian, Lars Ulrich
Watch Anvil! The Story of Anvil online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Anvil is an example of a band that started at the top before working its way down. It’s hardly an uncommon career trajectory in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, but whether many other musicians would remain as indefatigable throughout decades of steady decline and ceaseless disappointment as Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner is another matter entirely. The moderate success of 1982’s Metal on Metal was the high point from which the band fell. Picking up 23 years later, Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil joins the two men as they persist with the band while working low-paying 9-to-5 jobs to keep up with the mortgage.
A combination of bad management, cynical record label bosses and mistakes made along the way resulted in the underperformance of the band. In the 1980s, they shared a stage with acts as popular as Whitesnake and Bon Jovi, while Slash, Lemmy and Lars Ulrich are among the cast of fans and old friends interviewed for the documentary. Discussing possible reasons why Anvil failed where all around them succeeded, Slash speaks of the band as a trailblazer that made success for the likes of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses possible. They paved the way before everyone else borrowed their tricks, eventually rendering Anvil redundant.
There are references to cinema’s rock documentary past. Anvil! tries (but doesn’t entirely succeed) to evoke some of the nuances and depths found in Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (2004), a film that explored the band’s dynamics via filmed group therapy sessions. The relationship between Kudlow and Reiner is clearly strong; they met aged 14 and are still close to this day. When we witness Kudlow grabbing Reiner by the collar and pushing him up against the wall, you get the sense we’re watching Anvil’s long-awaited disintegration. A matter of hours later, the two men are embracing and declaring their undying love for each other.
Anvil! demonstrates how real life tragicomedy can so easily outdo fiction. When a European fan emails Kudlow about a chance to tour the continent, she speaks of shows that could make the band €1500 per night. The tour starts and ends in disaster, and the band return to Canada having made nothing. In Prague, the band turn up late on account of the city’s confusing road signs. Unhappy with their tardiness, the club’s owner waits until after their set to tell the band they’re not getting paid. Gervasi clearly isn’t concerned about showing the funny side of Anvil’s misery, as illustrated by a scene straight out of This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Kudlow enthuses to the camera about how the band is playing a 10,000-seater venue in Transylvania, and apparently, even the mayor is going to be there. Less than 200 people show up, and whether the mayor is among them remains unclear.
The film becomes a story of sacrifice in fidelity to a lifelong passion. Kudlow and Reiner are not rich or successful, but the idea of giving up the band seems to have scarcely crossed their minds. In order to come up with the cash to record their 13th studio album, Kudlow even tries his hand at telesales. After three days of working, amassing a grand total of zero sales in the process, he concludes that he was raised too polite to deliver the necessary hard sell. But 2007’s This is Thirteen did reach completion, and the band has recorded three more albums since this film’s release. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is the loveable underdog story par excellence.