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Try as hard as you want, but it is a physical, psychological, logical and mathematical impossibility to avoid comparing this to This is Spinal Tap. There are too many parallels, too many coincidences. The band has a rather cartoonish woman managing them, they split up and re-unite, there's Stonehenge and knobs that go to eleven, and they go to Japan, all to the tune of a new album of honest heavy metal, sounding, occasionally, almost like Tap itself did, and having serious production issues and difficulties in the marketing side of things. There, now it's been said, we can move on. Because in an incredible way, this documentary rivals Spinal Tap in so many ways it's almost impossible to believe.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a documentary about a metal band. It's not your average 523rd afternoon TV fuck-u-mentary with a bunch of ancient human beings way past their best-before date retelling the story of the great moments of making Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac in 1968, with people such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bonzo Bonham and Mama Cass sharing their weighty toothless opinions and fading memories from a rocking chair in a nursing home or a plastic surgeon's gurney, slurring their words due to three shotglasses' worth of Botox in the overstretched flab of skin formerly called a face. No, this is deep, painfully honest, and smells like real life of real people. Because Anvil is a band most metalheads have heard of, but surprisingly few have actually heard them. Therein lies the problem of Anvil, and, ironically, the incredibly fertile soil this movie grew from.
From a technical film critic's point of view, the movie is pretty good. The story flows nicely, the essential tales get told, and the production values are excellent for a documentary on a band that has been condemned to category B by the merciless hourglass of history. The things that take place during the 80 minutes are an incredible collection of incidents, and it almost begs the question whether or not something was scripted; but had this been scripted, there would be too much disbelief, because reality, in the end, usually outdoes any script. And the characters are too real to be acting, there is no method actor in the world capable of this performance.
Anvil plays pretty straightforward, rocking 80s-styled heavy metal, and the music is enjoyable, and probably works like an anvil dropped on the head from the third floor in a live setting, but in the case of Anvil: The Story of Anvil, the music surprisingly plays a secondary role. The documentary centers on the band, the difficulties they face, and the torturous road to getting out their thirteeth studio album, This Is Thirteen. But the real treat, and the real focus of the story, are the two founding members of the band, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, and their incredible characters. The men, in their 50s, are still true to their roots, the music they play, and the associated way of life. Perhaps they are easy to see merely as comical characters, with their almost juvenile enthusiasm to metal and the band. But there is a deeper, almost tragi-comical undercurrent of unreachable dreams and the Sisyphean task of trying beyond the call of duty. What Anvil loses in the financial side of things, they certainly win in living the kind of life so many dream of, minus the piles of dollars, cocaine and easy women with ample eager bosoms and easily parted legs. If the documentary is anything to judge by, that life is not for milk-livered candyasses, but a straining existence in pursuit of an elusive dream, tilling the rocky fields of metal until the fingers bleed and the tiller falls down, only to rise again and try once more. For three decades and thirteen albums, and counting.
Even if Lars Ulrich, Slash, Scott Ian and a handful of others pop in for a few quick words in the beginning, and paint a very positive picture of the early days of Anvil and the inspiration they say they found in Anvil's music, the real story is in the unbearable heaviness of metal and the unyielding drive to turn a dream into reality. It's difficult to deny that Anvil might very well have had the makings of a famous 80s band, had someone invested some resources and a bit of serious promotion in them, but at the same time, the fact remains that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bands from the same period that released a couple of pretty good albums, and in the lack of success, split up and disappeared. What makes Anvil special among them is not only the honestly enjoyable metal they churn out, but the tenacity, the incredible persistence that asks for... nah, demands... respect, and keeps them going. This movie is about that, guts, not something as secondary as music, a band, albums or gigs. And it's all real. Sometimes extremely amusing, sometimes tragic, and occasionally embarrassing, but real. And therefore, the documentary must be judged as a movie, a biopic, rather than your average live DVD or a compilation of music videos. And it's magnificient.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is definitely something every metalhead, young or old, should see. The educational value is simply too high for the young and eager upstart band members, and in today's world, with 70k+ bands on the Metal Archives alone, the competition is even harder than in Anvil's early years. The older dudes and dudettes, with memories from the live gigs in the 80s, will get a flashback or two from the days of old, and perhaps see the reverse side of the life of the old masters. And, perhaps most importantly, Anvil: The Story of Anvil might... nah, should... make you click a few links and buy a couple of Anvil albums from the band's website. Because this is dedication, and dedication of this caliber deserves support. Go, buy and see this movie, spend your money, and spread the word!