Film Review: 4-Stars
By Anthony Kuzminski
Read my DVD review of the film here
Read my review of their latest album This Is Thirteen here
I’m sitting in a small suburban movie theater just outside of Chicago and the audience is roaring with laughter, cheering at the screen, banging their heads, thrusting devils horn hands to the air and at select moments, shedding a few tears along the way, which my wife did a few times throughout the 90-minute experience that is Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Much has been written about the film and what was once a fringe metal band is now almost a house hold name. The short of it is that Anvil is a band whose influence is infinitely larger than their wallets. The film begins with admissions of admiration from Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Slash and Lemmy from Motorhead all singing the band’s praises. However, despite the millionaire’s admiration, the current day-to-day life of Anvil’s two original members, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner is anything but paradise. Despite being together for the better part of three decades, the band has little to show for it. They play mostly small clubs where cover bands bring in more people, but despite all of this, Lips and Robb remain undeterred which is the center and heart of the movie.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is an all too familiar story that isn’t told very often. For every rock star you see living it up, there one-thousand who are struggling to make ends meet. Lips and Robb are no different. They work nine-to-five jobs and when Anvil is alive and well…it doesn’t always mean the awoken beast produces a paycheck. After a disastrous European tour, Lips optimistically reminisces that at least there was a tour for things to go wrong on. Talk about optimism. Watching this film can be disheartening at times because of the sheer amount of bad luck they encounter surpasses Spinal Tap levels. Any other human being would call it a day, put on a suit and tie and that would be the end of it; except for Anvil. Trying to make money from your art is a near impossible task and the film shows all of their struggles, warts and all. Most rock documentaries find artists trying to come to terms with their art, their success and how time has changed the relationships of those around them but Anvil’s story is one of survival on an every day level.
What makes this rags-to-rags story so involving is Lips and Robb. You immediately find them loveable and looking upon their circumstances, you begin to think to yourself how you could very well see yourself in their shoes. You see them work their every day jobs, on tour, recording a new album and performing in a club where there s virtually no one there. In the end, when the film was over my wife told me, “I want to go out and buy something of theirs and support them because they deserve it”. When I was speaking to my friend Tom Trakas (former or Midwest Metal magazine and now found on the None But My Own Blog) he pointed out that while this story of struggle is universal, it wouldn’t be as engaging with other individuals. There are numerous of vile people in the music industry; Lips and Robb are not among them. These two men are dedicated and true to themselves. How many people do you know in your life who continues to forge ahead with a dream when it has all but been extinguished? These guys are in their fifties, haven’t had a hit of any kind in over two decades and their art does not reap financial rewards. But when you see them talking about how this is going to be “the album” that opens doors for them, you don’t scoff or laugh at them, you admire them because despite the up hill battle they are about to encounter, they remain undeterred. How many people have the bravery to see their dreams through? Not too long ago, my friend and I were all young and full of hunger and how we were going to make some kind of impact. Ten years on from college, virtually all of us have settled into complacency (which there is nothing wrong with) but the main reason we did is because fighting for our dreams would ultimately be too hard, time consuming and ultimately heartbreaking. The members of Anvil haven’t just had their heart broken a few times here and there, but they have had them decimated along the way by anyone and everyone who would step on it. Their families are interviewed and support Lips and Robb, but they realize that the ship has sailed and are waiting for their partners to come to this realization as well. However, in a day and age of extreme pessimism, this is a film that warms you, stays with you after the light come up and more importantly, it is a reminder that anything is possible. However, instead of placing your hopes and dreams in some fictional world of make believe, Lips, Robb and Anvil are very real and ultimately, it is what makes the film so remarkable because it reinforces the hope.
During the recording of their thirteenth album in England, things come to a head where it appears the band has broken up. But just when you think they have reached the end, comes a scene with humor and heart. The emotion that flows between these two friends is astonishing. There are highs, lows and even physical altercations with harsh words spoken, but ultimately, these two men come together in what most people would deem a great love story. We walk through life like zombies en route to our graves, but Lips and Robb aren’t going down without a fight, no matter how long they have been fighting. Anvil! The Story of Anvil isn’t merely a impressive rock documentary, in fact, it’s far bigger than even a documentary, it’s one of the most appealing and earnest films you will ever see and that is why it has a place on my year end Top-Ten list of Best Films of 2009 secured.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
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