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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Film Review | Anvil! The Story of Anvil


Rust Never Sleeps

by Thomas Delapa

Of the few heavy questions raised in Anvil! The Story of Anvil, here’s the heaviest: In the name of Led Zeppelin, how can you tell the difference between good heavy-metal music and bad heavy-metal music?

Before you hazard to answer, consider the tragi-comic plight of the aforementioned Anvil, an obscure, Toronto-based band once called “the demigods of Canadian metal.” In Sacha Gervasi’s lightweight but amiable documentary, Anvil could easily be a Great White North cover version of the hopelessly inept and hilariously fictional Spinal Tap band.

More than two decades after Rob Reiner rolled out his mock rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, Gervasi tracks the real trials and tribulations of Anvil, led by co-founders Steve “Lips” Ludlow and Robb Reiner. While there’s no relation between the Ontario Reiner and Hollywood’s own, the Anvil pair might be close cousins, eh?, of hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie from the late, lamented SCTV comedy series.

Whether enduring the low notes of a botched European tour or singing the dream of becoming rich and famous, Ludlow and Reiner play uncannily close to warped parody. Now in his fifties, Lips is the band’s heart, soul and biggest fan, talking up its rosy future even while working as a delivery driver for a lunch caterer.

If we can believe Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Anvil was the “real deal” back in the early 1980s, notably after the forging of its Metal on Metal album. Now that the big hair has flattened out and gone south, Anvil’s gigs today are mostly at weddings and local bars instead of sharing the bill with the likes of Anthrax. But a comeback beckons out of the blue when a Swiss wannabe promoter books the boys for a whirlwind European tour.

Like it’s comically redundant title, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a blunt object, hammering away on the pair’s quixotic dream of success (the other two current Anvillians barely share the spotlight). Lips’ family members, including his wife and mother, steadfastly back him up. But another sister, Droid, says that Anvil’s last blow has sounded. “It’s over. It’s been over for a long time.”

If there’s an unexpected backbeat to be found in Gervasi’s ditty, it comes from the genial and boyishly earnest personalities of the pair, notwithstanding Lips’ mundanely profane refrains. Sentimental and given to emotional crescendos, Lips fits the bill as drama queen as much as vee-guitar hero. Not only is the band stiffed on several stops of its fly-by-night European tour, a stop at the “Monsters of Transylvania” (really) concert translates into another rocky horror show.

This Is Spinal Tap touched a nerve--and not just the funny bone--because it nailed the grandiose pretensions of the metal scene as well as the idol-worshipping conventions of the rock documentary. The Anvil story doesn’t hit the same groove, though it does show that even head-bangers have a soft spot.

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