May 18, 2009

Taking It Home: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

"We're gonna do it together. We're gonna get there - we're gonna be rock stars! It's a dream...but I'm gonna make it come true!"

Don't let the fact that Sacha Gervasi wrote and produced The Terminal dissuade you from seeing his directorial debut, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, because this terrific documentary is everything The Terminal is not: charming, amusing, inspiring, moving, and above all, important to humanity. Alright, maybe it won't change the course of civilization, but if any film about aging rockers chasing a life-long dream would have the power to do so, this would be it.

In addition to featuring some surprisingly awesome cinematography and just the right amount of archival footage and talking head interviews, Anvil! succeeds for the same reason other excellent character-driven documentaries (recently Surfwise, Trouble the Water, Man on Wire) have succeeded because it truly captures the spirit of its subjects. By focusing less on the who, where and when, and more on the how and why, Gervasi doesn't tell a story about music or fame, but about friendship, trust, and determination. As such, you don't have to be a fan of heavy metal or even familiar with the genre to be touched by this film.

Like most people in their early teens, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner had big, bold dreams for the future. They were going to be rock stars, as others were going to be astronauts, professional athletes, or presidents. Unlike most of us, however, they actually realized this dream when their metal band Anvil toured worldwide with the great hair bands of the 80's.

And then something happened - Anvil almost completely dropped out of public sight. They continued making music, of course, but nobody paid attention aside from a few devoted fans in their native Canada. It was a bizarre fall from grace, and especially frustrating for band because there was little explanation as to why they went from the brink of international stardom to the brink of nonexistence.

Gervasi, who was a roadie for Anvil in the 80's (and then the original drummer for Bush?!), reunited with the band about five years ago as they were preparing to make another effort to revive their fanbase. What Gervasi captures, then, is a band fighting for its very survival. It's a side hobby now; Kudlow delivers school lunches to pay the bills. Record companies are only interested in a new pop sound of the millennium, not music that sounds two decades old. The band members'
families are reluctantly supportive, but even their patience is wearing thin. The band's official website is, no offense, a relative joke, and in recent years really the only place Kudlow and Reiner are "rock stars" is in their memories and their dreams for the future.

But then, isn't that enough?

Based on what we see in Anvil! (as well as in last year's Young @ Heart), the answer is resoundingly "yes" - especially concerning the future. Passion is admirable, and passion is healthy, but passion alone doesn't necessarily amount to anything. It's passion combined with optimism that changes the world, and Steve Kudlow is nothing if not outrageously optimistic. After essentially sacrificing his adult life in the pursuit of his dream, he would see almost nothing go right for the band for 20 years. But he carried the hopes of Robb and the other members on his back, somehow never giving up or hanging his head in defeat.

Impossibly, in the midst of rejection after rejection, disappointment after disappointment, arguments, fights, bad luck and regretful mistakes, Anvil remained righteously resilient. They're not trying to relive their younger years like the washed up guys you see at the local karaoke bar, they're just trying to accomplish what they set out to do four decades ago - period. What reason would there be to stop? What reasons do any of us stop pursuing those dreams? It's almost frightening and more than a bit depressing to consider our own surrenders; the hope and joy exhibited by Steve Kudlow and Robb Reiner proves that our dreams don't have to die, even if they are delayed.

What did you take home?

Epilogue: Anvil is currently touring in support of this film. They're playing short sets in select cities following screenings of the film, and they were here in Minneapolis when Anvil! opened on May 8 at the Landmark Uptown Theatre. By all accounts it was a great performance, and they had so much fun that they decided to stay and play a second set after the 9:30 PM show. Unbelievably, however, some idiot clown jacked two of Robb Reiner's cymbals in between shows, successfully ruining the second set, successfully ruining Anvil's Minneapolis experience, and successfully adding one more sour note to the band's struggling career revival. How and why somebody would do this after seeing the film is beyond me.

The details of this story have been posted around a number of different blogs, but I'll point you to Matt Gamble's Where the Long Tail Ends for a first-person account, including the open letter sent out by Uptown Theatre manager Patrick Cross. Matt also has a nice video from YouTube taken by "citygirldebbie" of Robb Reiner's drum solo that night, and here's her video of them playing "Metal on Metal":

Looks like it was a great night for those in attendance, despite the unfortunate incident.


  1. Anvil Photos by Brent J. Craig

  2. Fair enough, and some nice ones at that.

  3. Finally, someone I know and respect saw and loved this movie!

    I keep hearing great thing about it, but managed to miss it at LAFF last summer and during it's 1 week LA run.

    I look forward to checking it out on video I guess. Thanks for writing this up.

  4. I managed to miss it at the Little Rock Film Festival, too. But there was only one showing of it and it was opposite a film I ended up loving (That Evening Sun), so no regrets. I hope this gets a real release so I can see it before it goes to DVD.

  5. Well from what I know about both of your tastes I think you'll like it. Craig, I can't believe it only got a proper week in L.A. It's going to begin it's third week here on Friday, but I suppose your market is much more saturated. And JB, you might want to keep an eye on that list of cities. They're going to Nashville, which is still a bit of a drive for you, but who knows. Maybe it will have to be on DVD, but it should be just as good as they're really not loads of concert footage.

  6. Weirdly, it's playing less than two hours from here July 9 (Nashville is more like 8-10). But I think I have out of town company that weekend, and it's at a heavy metal festival in rural Eastern Oklahoma. Not sure about that.

    But it's always a thought. Maybe Oklahoman heavy metal festivals are my natural habitat, and I've just never known it.

  7. Yeah I actually saw that one on the list, too, though it wasn't described as "The Anvil Experience", which is the film + performance. So I'd be nervous that the Oklahoma thing is really just a heavy metal festival without the film screening.

    I don't think Oklahoman heavy metal festivals are anybody's natural habitat, but you know I'd be curious to hear about it...

    Hold on, stop the presses! I don't know when you last looked, JB, but The Anvil Experience is happening in Little Rock on May 25 - check out the city list!


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