This Is Spinal Tap is one of the most well-known documentaries to be released in the past 30 years. It tells the story of a has-been heavy metal band that is about to embark on an American tour (dubbed “Tap into America”) while promoting their new album Smell The Glove. And even though things get off to a fairly decent start, problems start to creep up: poor management, disastrous prop mishaps, and lagging ticket sales lead to a near-implosion of the band as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel walks offstage during a show at an Air Force hangar. Along the way we get glimpses into the individuals behind the band like Tufnel, whose custom guitar amplifiers go up to 11, and his friend and rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins, whose romantic involvement with the band manager leads to all kinds of problems. It would be tragically sad if it were true, but fortunately, it’s all a fake documentary from the brilliant minds of Christopher Guest (who plays Tufnel) and director Rob Reiner. It’s an entertaining and sublimely hilarious look at the strange world of Rock ‘n Roll, and one of the funniest movies of all time. Viewers with so much as a modicum of appreciation for the music scene watch and laugh because, like all good comedy, it’s funny because it’s true.
But what if it really were true? What if Spinal Tap really were a band haplessly careening toward obscurity with all the power a Marshall amp could muster? Would their plight still be funny, or would viewers watch in horror like rubberneckers observing a car wreck, drawn to the experience but shocked at what they see? Anvil: The Story of Anvil begs just such a question, along with a host of others, and in the process of exploring the careers of this motley crew of quinquagenarians struggling to polish the dust off their aging heavy metal careers with a European tour and a new album, we get not only an intensely intimate look at the lives of these musicians but an incredibly powerful story of perseverance, friendship, and dedication. And a whole lot of heavy metal.
The film documents the band’s rise to popularity at the height of heavy metal’s popularity in the mid-1980s, when lightning-fast guitar riffs were melded with overblown stage personas, and bands like Metallica, Guns and Roses, Van Halen, and Def Leppard could sell out the biggest arenas in the world. And in the middle of it all was Anvil, an act hailing from Toronto that stood toe-to-toe with the best metal bands around and whose influence carried over to guitarists like Slash and drummers like Lars Ulrich. But for whatever reason, Anvil never found commercial success like so many of their peers, and spent the next three decades wandering directionless in a changing musical wasteland. They recorded twelve albums, none of which made more than the faintest blip on any type of cultural radar. And yet, through it all, the band persisted–jamming, recording, playing shows whenever and wherever they could. This is where things really get interesting, though, as director (and childhood friend of lead guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow) Sacha Gervasi follows Anvil throughout Europe that is so horribly botched the band misses trains, fights with bar owners, and plays shows with less than a dozen people in the audience.
Through it all, and through the process of recording a new record with fabled heavy metal producer Chris Tsangarides, Lips and drummer Robb Reiner never cease to give up on their dream to be rock stars, and that’s where the real heart of this documentary lies. These two live for one thing: to be rock stars, and they will do whatever it takes to get there. Even if it means working a day job delivering school hot lunches, asking relatives for money to finance a recording session, or taking a telemarketing gig selling knockoff sunglasses. Like their fictional counterparts in Spinal Tap, they have more than their fair share of hard knocks, but if whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, Anvil has to be one of the toughest acts in the world. Interviews with friends, family, and music industry insiders reveal how much the deck is stacked against these aging headbangers, but Lips’ persistent optimism and good-natured attitude, not to mention Reiner’s almost-unwavering commitment to the band, keep things grounded in stark contrast to many of the stars of the music scene we see in the news today. Anvil: The Story of Anvil is an exceedingly heartbreaking but ultimately fulfilling and supremely rewarding story of what it means to never give up on your dreams.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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