Published on October 4th, 2022 | by Robert Barry Francos0
Anvil! The Story of Anvil! Restored and Returning Again
One of the better music documentaries out there, about metal band Anvil (Canada’s answer to Spinal Tap) is getting a re-release. It’s definitely worth seeing.
I will be honest with you: when the film was first released in 2009, I didn’t see it. I was in the process of moving to Canada by sheer coincidence, as the band is from Ontario, so my time was otherwise occupied dealing with packing and governmental hoo-haa. It is worth noting that the film is tied for 6th place as one of the highest rated documentaries of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.
After its initial release 13 years ago to great fanfare and attendance, the film is now being rereleased. To be honest, I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool metal fan. There are metal bands I like (The Dictators, for example), and certainly a lot of Ontario bands of the late ‘70s (Teenage Head, The Diodes, Forgotten Rebels, etc.), but it is interesting how this is kind of a mix-up of both those styles.
For a while in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, Anvil was at the top of their game, being highly influential on a number of bands at the time due to their 1982 album Metal on Metal, such as Lemmy of Motörhead, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, Anthrax, and even Metallica, all of whom are represented in the documentary. And how did a band that went up to almost famous be so influential? Think of the Beach Boys’ original Smile album, and how it had an effect on the likes of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s.
While there are other members of Anvil who are represented here, the main focus is on vocalist/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer/painter Robb Reiner, who have been friends since childhood. They struck it to the “almost” dial of fame, ending up being a cult band (you know the expression: “A musician’s musician”).
The film is broken up in to a number of unofficial chapters. For example, there are many short interviews with some of the (2009 and still, now) top in their field metal musicians, many of whom I have mentioned above.
Despite all the mishigas, here is a certain level of joy that permeates the film, thanks to the director, Sacha Gervasi, who is not only friends with the principals, but was also the band’s roadie during their heyday. We see Lips and Robb in their relatively lower middle class day jobs that they seem to be happy with, and their spouses who put up with them. For me, one of my favorite things is that while Gervasi presents Top-Level musicians that are fans of Anvil, they also show the joy of Lips and Robb as they meet other musicians, such as Carmine Appise, Tommy Aldridge, and a very somber Michael Schenker (who comes across as confused as to who Lips is), sometimes chasing after them to say hello at stadium-level gigs. It’s quite touching.
The documentary really picks up with Lips and Reiner (along with another version of a cobbled together band…let’s face it, no matter who backs them up, Anvil is Lips and Reiner) when the film starts in the second act, as Anvil begins a month-long tour of Europe, set up by their tour manager, Tiziana Arrigoni (who would later marry the guitarist), that does not quiiiiite go as expected. Right from the start, they are unable to board the train to take them to their second gig, and they have to find other means. This is just the start of an almost This is Spinal Tap-esque level of a state of confusion and roadblocks. The big festivals go somewhat smoothly, but when they play smaller clubs and travel from one to another, that where the issues arise, as they do with any touring band at the club level (I recommend Henry Rollins’ 1994 book, Get in the Van for a view of touring life).
In the next larger section of the film, while in their 50s, Lips and Robb decided to record their 13th album, appropriately titled This is Thirteen in 2007; currently, they have 19. Hoping for lightening to strike twice, they hire the same well-known producer of the Metal on Metal album from decades before, British Chris Tsangarides, a Grammy winner who has worked with the likes of Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The issue is raising the thousands of dollars it would cost, and the flights.
As much as this is a story of a band on the roller coaster ride of fame, it is also about different types of family: for example, it focuses in on relations and spouses and how they deal with being married to someone who has a laser vision dream outside the family; the other is the brotherhood of Robb and Lips. Sometime they fight like, well, other families, but they both know that their entire dreams and lives are dependent on each other, and it runs deeper than an argument (even when it comes to fisticuffs, as Robb explains about a necklace his father gave him).
I can understand why this film is so beloved. It is both moving and jaw dropping when it comes to the level of angst they go through just in the day-to-day to try and see the fruition of their dreams. This makes it very heartening to the spirit of the viewer.
The film is currently rereleased to 200 theaters in North America, included limited extended runs. If you manage to catch it, there will be an added 18-minue filmed interview with Lips, Robb and the director, Gervasi. Also on that date, it will be available for digital pre-order on iTunes and Vudu.