The proliferation of documentary cinema over the past decade has given us a nice sized stack of memorable, moving, earth shattering, awareness raising and thought provoking films. With that has come a steaming heap of boring, schmaltzy, formulaic and fetishistic pieces that betray audiences, subjects and filmmakers equally. _Anvil! The Story of Anvil _isn’t quite the latter, but it certainly steers closer to that end of the spectrum. That being said, as far as docs go these days, it’s a pretty good movie.
Opening like an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, the film chronicles the ups and downs (mostly downs) of heavy metal rockers Robb Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow, whose promising rise in the early 1980s (playing in Tokyo alongside, Poison and Whitesnake, for example) never materialized into the mega careers of their dreams. No matter. Now into their 50s, the band is still together. Both Robb and Steve sport day-jobs while Anvil trudges on, playing local bars and parties with a small following of faithful fans.
Like many documentarians, Sacha Gervasi, the film’s director, embeds himself with the once and future rock stars through some wild ups and downs. After profiling the Toronto based group, specifically Mr. Reiner and Mr. Kudlow, he story moves to a European tour where pretty much everything and anything goes wrong. Venues withholding payment, missing buses and trains, audiences of less than a dozen people; it’s all here. And of course, the two founding members, who have been rocking together nearly four decades, get into spats with each other en route.
It is no surprise that there are more downs in this tale. Instead of following a steady sine curve of emotional fracas, Mr. Gervasi instead takes the low road to beat a reaction out of us. The camera often exacerbates uncomfortable situations, painting both front-men as negative caricatures of themselves. “Lips” plays as something of a jester while Mr. Reiner comes off like, for lack of a better word, an ass hole. Truly, these men must be more complex than this.
There is a great story here, but instead we are fed the same manipulative crap that seems to be coming from every “reality” based angle. After the failure of the tour in Europe, “Lips” sends a demo to the first producer they worked with early in their career, Chris Tsangarides, who in turn opts to produce the band’s thirteenth album. Enter requisite in-studio bickering.
Look, I realize that this is the reality of this band. Mr. Gervasi didn’t make any of these events up. I just believe that there is a better way to get to the core of a story than to expose your subject’s dirty laundry. Sure, the film offers up plenty of happy moments and, as advertised is something of a testament to the human spirit, but only as much as William Hung was in 2004.
Documentary films are not supposed to be this simple. In someone else’s hands, perhaps the real story of Anvil would be more compelling, more truthful, and aim towards greater understanding of something, anything. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wholly watchable. There are some fun scenes scattered throughout. When this shows up on the IFC channel one day it’d be a fun watch. For now, not worth a trip to the theater.