Should I Watch..? Anvil: The Story of Anvil
What's the Big Deal?
Anvil: The Story Of Anvil is a rock documentary film released in 2008 and was directed and produced by screenwriter and former roadie Sacha Gervasi. The film concerns the fortunes of the influential rock band Anvil many years after their Eighties heyday and the struggles of band founders Steve "Lips" Ludlow and Robb Reiner have trying to recapture their former glory. The film also features interviews with more successful rock musicians like Slash and Lars Ulrich discussing the impact Anvil had on their careers. The film was released to near universal critical acclaim and received numerous awards and nominations at film festivals all over the world. The film earned just shy of $1 million at the global box office and led to a resurgence in popularity for the band.
What's It About?
The film opens at the legendary Super Rock Festival held in Japan back in 1984, headlined by some of the biggest acts in rock history - Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions. Another headline act that failed to achieve similar success was Anvil, widely respected Canadian hard rockers with a frenetic, high-energy style all of their own. But unlike their peers, Anvil faded into obscurity with frontman Steve "Lips" Ludlow working as a driver for a children's catering company and drummer Robb Reiner working in construction. But neither man has given up on their dreams and they both still perform to loyal fans at their local sports bar, thirty years after appearing in Japan.
The film follows the band during a disastrous tour of Europe helmed by enthusiastic but naïve fan Tiziana Arrigoni with the group performing in front of dozens instead of thousands and the band frequently not getting paid for their efforts. In a last-ditch attempt at recovering their past glories, Lips gets into contact with the producer of their first three (and by far the most successful) albums - Chris "CT" Tsangarides - and persuades him to record a new album with them. However, the cost of travelling to England to record "This Is Thirteen" puts a strain on those around Ludlow and Reiner as well as the men themselves...
Steve "Lips" Ludlow
Chris "CT" Tsangarides
Release Date (UK)
20th February, 2009
Biography, Documentary, Music
What's to Like?
Any frustrated metal-head will sympathise with Steve and Robb in this film, two guys with a genuine passion and talent for what they do but somehow never quite getting the break they deserve. While comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap are inevitable and unfortunate, there is actually a great deal of difference. While the misfortunes befalling the fictional band are comical, Anvil's downfall is as tragic as their reluctance to give up is admirable. Steve is a force of nature, his eternal optimism coming across as infectious and at times, misplaced. Robb, by contrast, seems a bit happier letting his best friend have the spotlight - every good drummer knows their place is behind the kit.
Not being familiar with Anvil or their music, they do appear to have genuine skill when it comes to playing and their love of their craft is plain to see. But the realities of their lives, coupled with the efforts of the record companies to move ever onward, makes their determination to succeed almost psychotic. It's the ultimate film for anyone who enjoys rooting for the little guy (something all English folks like myself do!), particularly if the underdogs in question are two guys in a quiet suburb of Toronto refusing to give up, grown up or compromise.
- Gervasi once worked as a roadie for Anvil back in the Eighties, introducing himself to the band as "England's No. 1 Anvil fan". The band gave Gervasi the nickname "Teabag".
- The band were hugely influential in the early years, pioneering a sound that would come to be known as speed metal along with the likes of Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Judas Priest.
- Since the film's release, Anvil went on to appear on several tours of Europe and the US as well as performing alongside the likes of Saxon and Alice Cooper. Steve also admitted to paying his sister back...
What's Not to Like?
Gervasi is very much a natural documentarian, never appearing on camera or heard asking questions - his style is to shoot footage with as little direction as possible. For the most part, it works because Ludlow and Reiner are engaging enough to carry it off. But during interviews with their families and spouses, it all feels a bit artificial and staged. In fact, I found myself wondering what Gervasi's motivation was. Was it to promote the band who were going to record their thirteenth album regardless or was it to show former colleagues of his in a less-than-flattering light? I couldn't work out what Gervasi's agenda was and frankly, it bothered me.
What would have been nice would be if the film had a compilation album to accompany it. Anvil, by their own admittance, aren't the most popular band in the world so for non-listeners, it would have been nice to hear whole songs instead of snippets of raucous tracks that gather your attention but don't go anywhere. At least you got to listen to the likes of Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight and Stonehenge during This Is Spinal Tap.
Should I watch it?
Anyone who thought that This Is Spinal Tap was just a comedy should check this out - genuinely funny but thought-provoking and heart-breaking as well, you can't help but fall in love with these two old rockers clinging to their dreams by their fingernails. Anvil: The Story Of Anvil might not be that original but it's a fabulous glimpse into what it takes to make it at the top - ambition, desire, talent and just a hint of luck. Great stuff!
Great For: fans of the band, head bangers, lovers of This Is Spinal Tap, aspiring musicians.
Not So Great For: anyone who hates rock, record company executives, your grandparents, anyone easily offended by colourful language.
What Else Should I Watch?
I think it's obvious where to start, given how often this is mentioned in the same breath as this film. This Is Spinal Tap might follow a fictional band instead of an actual one but its mimicry of heavy metal groups and disasters on tour is so close to real life that many viewers have been fooled. By contrast, A Hard Day's Night follows a real band - none other than The Beatles - during a series of contrived situations. If anything in Anvil: The Story Of Anvil has been faked then I will shed real tears.
Rock documentaries don't necessarily have to follow comedic routes. Iron Maiden: Flight 666 follows the British band on their 2008 world tour on their customised Boeing 757, nicknamed Ed Force One. But if all you are after is a little light discussion, may I suggest It Might Get Loud which sees The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page talk about their love for the electric guitar and have a little jam as well. Lastly, you won't find a better concert film than Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day which sees the three surviving members reunite with John Bonham's son Jason on drums for one final blast of legendary rock!
© 2017 Benjamin Cox