Anvil! The Story of Anvil Review

Anvil are a metal band with history. At one point in their career they were at the top of the pile with other 80s bands and played to packed out crowds. This fame and success was short-lived though and Anvil now play dives to a handful of fans and can’t get a recording contract, or even for anyone from the music industry to listen to them.

Sacha Gervasi’s documentary is the story of this band. The documentary is a departure from the usual route taken by the recent wave of rock documentaries and instead of discussing the music and giving the viewer a history of the band in 90 minutes, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is the story of Anvil now. The film starts with a brief sequence of talking heads by notable figures in rock including Slash, Lars Ulrich, Lemmy and Tom Araya. They discuss the music and Anvil’s too short moment at the top. These first few minutes made me think that this was going to be a lot of talking heads interpersed with archive footage telling the story of Anvil but the film suddenly changes tone and shifts to the lead singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow unloading boxes from a van in his regular day job as a Choice Childrens Catering delivery driver.

This isn’t his career though, he hasn’t turned his back on Anvil. Steve and his partner in Anvil, Robb Reiner, still believe in their band and believe that they deserve to be back on the top and playing to packed out crowds and headlining rock festivals across the world. They feel they were treated unfairly by their rise to the top and their then descent into near obscurity.

It is Steve and Robb’s determination and belief that makes the film so compelling and heartbreaking. In one scene in particular, after playing in a grotty venue in Prague the owner tries to get away without paying them and Steve loses it and grabs the guy, screaming at him that he’d just played his heart out and deserved to get paid. This scene is so sad and although Steve loses his temper pretty badly you can tell it’s just his passion and self-belief being tested that leads his anger to vent. Steves anger is seen again aimed at Robb but the pair have a long freindship and this animosity quickly passes. The relationship between the pair is at the heart of the film and is something that helps endear the audience towards their cause.

The This is Spinal Tap comparison is of course inevitable and I actually think this was used as a useful marketing tool in getting people to see this film but this is not a real life Spinal Tap documentary. Personally I feel the comparisons are a lot more to do with lazy journalism and the marketing than anything to with real similarities. The film is funny in places but a lot of the film is very sad and a real underdog story. You really want to get behind them and you will them to succeed.

This leads to the climax of the film as the band are booked to play a large music festival in Japan and the tension as they get to the stage not knowing if anyone will even be watching is huge. The other filmic point of reference is probably Some Kind of Monster, which the film does have similarities with in the scenes in which Anvil try and record a new album. The difference is though that where Metallica ended up looking egotistical and like spoilt rock stars, the struggle for Anvil is obvious, making the album is genuinely difficult. They have to borrow money from family, Steve even tries a telesales job with absolutely no success, and the tension is not about whether they will make another hit record but whether anyone will even hear it.

These are not preening Prima donnas, these are hard working guys doing something they believe in and unlike the stars of many reality TV shows these guys want to be recognised for something they are good at, something they care about. With the success of the film it looks as though Anvil will finally have more exposure and will be able to play decent venues where the owners don’t try and pay them in goulash.