Filmmaker Sacha Gervasi met the band Anvil when he was 18 and became a roadie for the Canadian metal group during the peak of their career in the early '80s. He went on to work for poet Ted Hughes, the Samuel Beckett Archive and eventually penned screenplays produced by Warner Brothers (The Big Tease, 1999) and Dreamworks Entertainment (The Terminal, 2004). During his final tour with Anvil, in 1985, they traveled Japan with such supergroups as Whitesnake, Scorpions and Bon Jovi, all three of whom were listed on VH1's list of the 100 greatest hard rock artists.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil picks up two decades later, and the band is right back where it started--in Toronto, playing the odd gig and working day jobs to get by. Lead guitarist and vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow delivers lunches for schoolchildren while drummer Robb Reiner does construction work, all the while waiting for their next big shot at stardom. In the time they've been together, they've made 16 albums, only three of which, they suggest, anyone has listened to. But Kudlow, with Reiner standing steadfastly behind him, is determined to keep living his dream, even after a 20-year-long wake-up call. During the course of the film's shooting, Anvil gets two potential lucky breaks. First, Swedish fan Tiziana Arrigoni books the group a European tour, playing festivals and arenas in Finland, Greece, Croatia and finally Romania. The circuit begins promisingly, but into the second month, payment disputes and member meltdowns begin to carry a looming threat of band breakup. Despite a disastrous tour, Kudlow remains positive, chalking it up to one more rock and roll reality. Arrigoni fares better, ending up married to Anvil's backup guitarist Ivan Hurd.
The second comes when Grammy-nominated producer Chris Tsangarides agrees to record Anvil's 13th studio album--having previously worked on their second--and the band turns to family members and their cadre of fans to rustle up sufficient dough to travel to England for the sessions. Without a signed record deal, solid management or the support of a few long-suffering kin, the band prepares for its umpteenth comeback attempt. But leftover stress from the tour and years of disappointment might mean it's their last.
Director Gervasi substantiates the band with some well-deserved testimonials of their talent and influence on the speed metal movement. Using interviews with members of Metallica, Anthrax and Twisted Sister, he establishes the importance of Anvil's legacy to the group of metal gods they inexplicably never joined. But this documentary is a far greater beast than just a montage of hard-rock hair and remember-whens. The core of the story is the relationship between Kudlow and Reiner, a 35-year friendship and love of loud music that binds the two together. It's messy, tumultuous, desperate and ultimately rock-solid. Kudlow, friendly and frequently star-struck, has an intense honesty and need to be heard, while Reiner is supportive but weary of waiting. It's one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking friendships on film. Gervasi does an excellent job of balancing the deep emotion of Anvil's story with the elan and joie de vivre of rock culture.
With genial, engaging subjects, a great stock of footage and face time with some of the greatest rockers in history, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is not just a documentary about the biggest benchwarmers in the metal roster. It's a story about the passion and perseverance that pushes musicians to keep playing long after the cries of the crowd have drifted away. Some call it denial, but Anvil demonstrates that determination can be divine.