Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008; dir. Sacha Gervasi)
—This not-so-distant relative of Chris Smith’s remarkable 1999 documentary American Movie
is one part Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
and one part This Is Spinal Tap
; in fact, one scene in Anvil! takes place at Stonehenge, where the demons dwell. But what makes it less withering and more sincere than either of those great works—could you call them musicals?—is its working-class pride and DIY spirit. For whatever reason, Anvil was a pop metal band that missed its chance to ride the mid-1980s wave that washed Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, the Scorpions and others onto the shores of pop superstardom—and it’s not like they were that much worse (or better) than any of their better known peers. Maybe lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow wasn’t magnetic enough, although he comes off as both a true believer and a pretty decent guy throughout. What’s more likely is that, as Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister says, they were cursed with bad luck and bad timing.
Whatever the cause of their non-stardom, it’s clear that rock and roll has saved Lips’ life and sustained his lifelong friendship with band mate Robb Reiner (there’s that Spinal Tap connection again…). No matter what they encounter—inept foreign managers, shady club owners, indifferent record execs, dead-end day jobs—they show signs that they will endure if not necessarily prevail. Lips’ optimism is both touching and foolish in a world where one of his biggest fans shows his appreciation by getting his favorite frontman a job peddling sunglasses over the phone. Three cheers for the Asian heavy metal enthusiasts who eventually redeem Anvil’s struggles, and one more cheer for superfan filmmaker Gervasi, who chronicled his idols’ twilight (and subsequent semi-resurgence) with compassion and humor that’s almost never condescending or cheap.