Aging Struggling Metal Band Hasn’t Spinal Tapped Out

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (Dir. Sasha Gervasi, 2008)

A handful of rock documentaries including METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER and DiG! have been dubbed “the real life Spinal Tap” before, but this examination of who one fan calls “the demi-Gods of Canadian metal” definitely comes the closest to resembling that seminal 1984 hard rock doc satire. From the shining silver lettering of the band name to their over the top stage antics (I can totally see Nigel Tufnel playing a guitar with a dildo) to the mishandled gigs and then there’s even the drummer’s name being Robb Reiner, so we’ve definitely got a winner in the true-life Spinal Tap sweepstakes. Hell, their amps actually go to 11 and they even go to Stonehenge – not just sing about it.

The thing is, these are real guys who have struggled in the low tiers of heavy metal for years and through all the hilarity a touching pathos forms for their perseverance. Now in their 50’s, guitarist/frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow works for a children’s catering company while Reiner does odd construction jobs between tours that are becoming less and less frequent. Lips is the de facto narrator taking us through a disastrous European tour complete with a screaming irate manager, poor attendance, and non paying promoters. A bit down, but not out, they return home to focus on making their 13th album which involves raising a hefty sum in order to secure studio time with infamous metal producer Chris Tsangarides.

They squabble during production yet are immensely proud of the disc they deliver. Trouble is, no record label wants it so they distribute it themselves. In the end, just like in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, there’s always Japan. Filmed lovingly by a former roadie (who incidentally went on to co-write the screenplay for one of Steven Spielberg’s worst movies: THE TERMINAL), ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (love that wonderfully redundant title) isn’t just one of the best rock documentaries of the last decade, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages – I laughed so hard that tears flowed at an 80’s clip of Anvil appearing on some afternoon “issues” TV show (think a destitute woman’s Sally Jessie Raphel) with the lyrics of an early crude song (“Toe Jam”) being soberly recited. And speaking of tears, I was surprised to see so many shed by the participants (mostly Lips and his family members) throughout this film.

It’s weird but, I actually care about this band now (honestly though, I don’t think I’ll listen to their music) and think it’s great they are on the movie map. Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it. It’s a hilarious and touching movie about pursuing one’s dreams, at all costs (or none), even if they appear to be adolescent pipe dreams to a huge portion of the population. Pete Townshend once said: “Rock ‘n roll can’t solve your problems, but it can help you dance all over them.” With ANVIL! make that “fist-pump and thrash” all over them too.

More later…