Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian, Lemmy Kilmister, and Tom Araya. Directed by Sacha Gervasi.
Rated M (Frequent coarse language and incidental nudity). 81 min.
This is a documentary film about a heavy metal band from Toronto, Canada, called “Anvil”. The film features interviews with rock musicians, who claim that they have been influenced significantly by the band. They include Lars Ulrich (from Metallica), Scott Ian (from Anthrax), Lemmy Kilmister (from Motorhead), Slash (from Guns N’Roses), and Tom Araya (from Slayer). The film focuses on Kudlow and Reiner, lead musicians from Anvil. Steve “Lips” Kudlow is the lead vocalist for Anvil, and Robb Reiner is its lead drummer. Anvil made the 1982 record, “Metal on Metal”, which is considered one of the most influential rock metal records ever made. But despite its achievements, the band never reached the heights of acclaim of other groups, such as Slayer, Anthrax, and Metallica. Anvil had a glorious beginning and then faded into obscurity, only to try again, and fail. This is a movie about that journey.
The Director, Sacha Gervasi is clearly an ardent fan of Anvil and joined the rock group on three of its tours in the 1980s. Twenty years later, Gervasi was reunited with the band, and began shooting this documentary, which is an affectionate homage to Anvil, and particularly to Kudlow and Reiner. During the course of its showing at various film festivals the movie has won a spate of audience awards, and one of those was an Audience Award at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival. It has been described by the Los Angeles Times as the only heart-warming film ever made about a heavy metal band.
The film focuses on two men who have never given up their dream; they both still want rock stardom, though they know they have never made it to the top. The film is an endearing look at hopeful people, who optimistically cling to life’s aspirations. In many ways, it is a documentary about survival as well as the capacity to stay optimistic, and the film is as much as about personal ideals, the endurance of failure, and persistence, as it is about the rock music that they play. Life for this group, has delivered some solid blows, especially in the guises of an incompetent manager, unscrupulous record companies, and an unsuccessful European tour to try and re-discover lost popularity.
Kudlow and Reiner are now 50 years of age, having joined the band at the age of 14. They both still live in the same town in Canada and have jobs there. “Lips” delivers meals to old folks’ homes, and Robb is a concrete worker. They continue to play, but despite their beginnings they can’t get work as musicians any more. In the movie, Gervasi, follows them around as they keep trying to make some kind of comeback.
The lyrics of the music, as well as much of the dialogue, in this film, are punchy, confronting; and the music is incredibly loud. The men involved in the band, however, bring an incredible level of enthusiasm to whatever they do, and this makes for a very warm and human documentary that shows us highly personal and vivid glimpses of the personalities of Kudlow and Reiner, in particular. The two men are endearing, warm, and often very funny, and audience empathy with them has clearly earned the film its popularity around the Festival circuit. The movie is a moving record of lasting friendship, family support, and talent, as well as hopes that linger.
In viewing this movie, one is reminded of Dylan Thomas’s inspiring words: “Rage against the dying of the light”. The film is a classy documentary. It is an honest portrayal of two individuals, who have never given up the fight, despite what life has delivered to them. And it is ironic that the popularity of the film may well have delivered to Anvil finally what it has always hoped for.
Mushroom Pictures. Out September 10, 2009.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.