catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 11 :: 2009.05.22 — 2009.06.05


Driving rhythm

Thom Yorke once said, “Being in a band turns you into a child and keeps you there.”  If ever there was a movie to support that claim it is Anvil! The Story of Anvil.  Directed by Sacha Gervasi, screenwriter for The Terminal and The Big Tease, this documentary follows an ageing metal band from Ontario whose brief moment of fame in the early 80s and an unwillingness to give up their dream of international rock stardom continues to drive them 30 years later. 

Gervasi, an Anvil superfan who left home to travel with the band in 1982, could not believe they had stayed together all these years.  He was looking for a project to direct, something personal, and he was drawn to this band he had loved as a teenager.  When Gervasi met with Anvil’s lead singer Lips (Steve Kudlow) in 2005, Gervasi was struck by the fact that this middle-aged metalhead still believed he was just one good gig away from superstardom.  Gervasi found Lips’ conviction both a little sad and exceptionally inspirational, which is precisely the sentiment captured in the film. 

The film plays up an obvious likeness to the classic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap but Lips and his long-time friend and Anvil drummer Rob Reiner (yes, his real name!) are real people and have a real relationship that is funny, melodramatic and touching at the same time.  The two have a sincere love for metal music and for each other that explains how they could keep going for so long. 

After attending a showing at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago (where the band itself was present-they seem to be doing better for themselves now: they quit their day jobs), I am convinced Anvil! The Story of Anvil should be considered one of the great rockumentaries of all time.  For its honesty and beauty — the cinematography and comedic editing is masterful — it belongs in the same category as Woodstock, Gimme Shelter, Don’t Look Back, The Filth and the Fury, Some Kind of Monster and Shine a Light.  What makes Anvil! The Story of Anvil a creditable contribution to this distinguished rock movie canon is that it tells an as yet untold (though very familiar for most bands) story of rock n’ roll-the story of those who fall short of their dreams. (Heavy Metal in Baghdad, which I also recommend, tells a comparable story but this film seems more a sociological document than a rockumentary.)

Though the film seems to be a story of an unsuccessful band, as the documentary unfolds the lines separating success from failure dissolve in the face of the strong human bonds that have been formed.  By the end of the film it is clear that the rock band as an art form continues to be one of those special places where the human drama of unfulfilled dreams, transitory highs and lows and brief glimpses of the possibility of eternal greatness is played out before a crowd of millions…or an empty room of a loyal few.

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