European tour is arranged, and Anvil finds itself pounding away in a half-empty
THE CURRENT CINEMA                                                                        bar in Munich, with one loyal customer seated on an easy chair, headbanging all

ROCK SOLID                                                                                by himself. Nothing could be sadder than that, although Lips comes close when
                                                                                          he exclaims, as the light fades at a Swedish outdoor festival, “Well, here we are
                                                                                          backstage, trying to talk to Ted Nugent.” With all respect, that’s not the highest of
“Anvil! The Story of Anvil.”                                                              human ambitions, is it? Spirits are raised by the sight of a Romanian venue with
                                                                                          a capacity of ten thousand, and by rumors that “the mayor of Transylvania” him-
by Anthony Lane                                                                           self may attend—a charming touch, in the gore-friendly world of thrash. In the
APRIL 20, 2009                                                                            event, the audience totals a hundred and seventy-four. The tour is organized, more
                                                                                          or less, by a diehard Anvilista named Tiziana, who is incapable of booking train
     he most stirring release of the year thus far is a documentary. No surprise          tickets, although her follow-up phone calls have the authentic tang of rock chick
T    in that, given the current state of feature films, or in the fact that “Anvil! The
Story of Anvil” is a documentary about a heavy-metal band. But this film is about
                                                                                          (“ ‘A’ like ‘ass,’ ‘S’ like ‘Sodom’ ”), and she, too, salvages something at the last
                                                                                          minute by unexpectedly marrying the lead guitarist, Ivan Hurd.
a failed heavy-metal band, which sounds about as purposeful as a vegan shark.                     Back comes Anvil, to the small comforts of home, and to a few more snip-
Back in the nineteen-eighties, Anvil was, if not huge, on the verge of hugeness. It       pets of information, carefully staggered by Gervasi, about what that home con-
was never, according to the movie, one of the Big Four—a term that I always               sists of. I was unshaken by the news that Lips has a mother named Toby, and
associated with the Paris peace conference of 1919, but which, on further inspec-         Robb has a sister named Droid, but the sequence in which Lips’s sister Rhonda
tion, turns out to refer to Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. (Specialists        lends him more than twelve thousand dollars to cut a new album (“He’s my dear
might prefer to file them under thrash metal, that delicate subset of the genre, but      brother and I’ve always loved him”) yields the shock that you get only from
“Anvil!” is wise enough to steer clear of such hairsplitting, not least because, in       unvarnished goodness. We are shown a photograph of the infant Reiner with his
a world where most of the guitarists look like exploded spaniels, there is an awful       father, a survivor of Auschwitz, and if, like me, you have been shamefully igno-
lot of hair to split.) Still, Anvil had its adherents, and we find a swarm of them in     rant of Jewish Canadian heavy metal and its family background, here is your
a clip of the Super Rock Festival of 1984, in Japan, where the band’s lead singer,        chance to atone. No wonder that Lips stumbles so badly when Cut Loose, the fan
Steve Kudlow, can be seen onstage playing his guitar with a sex toy, thus raising         from the birthday bash, finds him a job in telephone sales. “I’ve been trained my
the question of whether he takes his plectrum to bed.                                     whole life to be polite,” Lips says, and he duly fails to close a single deal. No
         Kudlow is seldom known as Steve. To his friends and admirers, for visible        wonder, too, that, as he mails off a tape of new songs to a former producer,
reasons, he is Lips. In 1973, in Toronto, he met a fellow-local named Robb                solemnly licking the stamp, you fear the worst.
Reiner, a drummer by vocation—and no relation to the Rob Reiner who directed                      On the other hand, in the undying words of Lips, “It could never be worse
“This Is Spinal Tap,” the great mock documentary about heavy metal, though                than what it already is.” Maybe the worst is already over, and, if you’ve gone
both bands would relish the freak coincidence. The decision that Lips and Robb            from performing in Japanese stadiums to playing badminton in the back yard, as
reached as teen-agers, to rock together, is one that they have stuck to for thirty-       Lips does, with a crowd consisting of one dog, so what? There are worse ways to
six years. That symbiosis has come to fuse the pair so unbreakably that, at some          live. Thus it is that, in the final leg of the film, Anvil, buoyed by a positive
points in the documentary, you can scarcely tell them apart—never more so than            response to the Rhonda-sponsored album, heads back to Japan and to a hall that
when they bicker, which is half the time. “Why am I your fall guy, constantfuck-          can hold twenty thousand souls. Is this the fillip in fortune of which the band has
ingly?” a plaintive Reiner asks, amid the angry fallout of a recording session.           dreamed, or are we heading for another Transylvania? Will twenty thousand
“Because I love you,” Lips replies, quite without embarrassment or doubt. I have          Japanese youngsters bother to have their eardrums pummelled at eleven-thirty-
noticed something similar in the bond between Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, of          five in the morning—hardly the slot of a headline act—or will all but two dozen
the British group Status Quo, and we should celebrate the way in which pairs of           choose to stay in bed? I genuinely didn’t know the answer, and somehow it mat-
aging rockers tend to wind up like lovely, crumbling old married couples, with            tered very much; ninety minutes before, I had never heard of Anvil, yet now the
each one finishing the other’s sentences and pining when he has to go away.               question of the band’s fate held me in its grasp, and I could sense the people
         “Anvil!” gets going in the present day, with the band half-forgotten, and        around me, likewise, holding their breath. If we were watching a Hollywood
Lips on the skids. We watch him delivering prepared meals to schools in                   drama, of course, the hall would erupt; but this was a documentary, and anyone
Scarborough, Ontario, driving along snowy roads and musing on shepherd’s pie              versed in “Hoop Dreams” knows that sometimes it is the regrettable duty of non-
and meat loaf. At one point, he wears a food worker’s hairnet, thereby morphing           fiction to dash the kinds of sweet resolution in which Hollywood likes to traffic.
into a dead ringer for Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” Reiner, meanwhile, has                    What actually happens I have no intention of revealing. Suffice it to say
some sort of demolition job, which at least allows him to use a power drill—a             that the emotion that swept the cinema, at the climax, seemed unanimous,
short hop, surely, from the task of hammering out the beat in “Metal on Metal,”           binding, and true: pretty much all that we ask of a movie, when you think
still the band’s signature song. Even here, though, the men’s ponderings have a           about it. People who wait for the DVD, on the ground that this is a documentary
sublime tone—a muted chord of resignation and expectancy that immediately                 about losers, made by a Brit, will miss out on that wonderful sense of conspiracy
puts you on their side. “After all’s said and done, I can say that all has been said      you get only in a cinema, with a bunch of complete strangers joined in a secret pact.
and done,” Lips remarks, sounding like a bankrupt in Dickens or a derelict in             Presumably, that is how Anvil aficionados feel, too, when they listen to songs like
Beckett. (The film’s director, Sacha Gervasi, went from being a roadie for Anvil,         “March of the Crabs,” “Dr. Kevorkian,” and “Bushpig.” I had expected “Anvil! The
in the eighties—the musicians called him Teabag, because he’s English—to                  Story of Anvil” to be no more than a real-life rehash of “This Is Spinal Tap,” and
working on an archive of Samuel Beckett material, so this film may represent an           the very title of the new film has the same nudge of comic overkill that we treasure
unrepeatable chance to merge his interests.) Many such gems fall from the mouth           in the earlier one, whose famous scene of a guitar amp being turned up to eleven is
of Lips; after everything on tour goes “drastically wrong,” he gently points out          echoed here. Some of Anvil’s lines could have been lifted straight from the mouths
                     that “at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” How can      of Spinal Tap, and, as for the announcement, in the end credits, that the hapless
                       you not love a man who thinks like that, dredging the televi-      Tiziana is “hoping to branch out into opera,” you couldn’t make
                         sion of consolation from the swimming pool of disaster?          it up. Yet, despite all that, Gervasi adds something that goes
                                In tune with this tiny hint of optimism, Gervasi uses     beyond Rob Reiner’s brief, and that no amount of mockery can
                             his film to trace the recrudescence of Anvil. Progress is    tame. This film is not about rock music at all, still less about
                              bumpy at best. Early on, we watch the band gather for       school lunches in Ontario, or unusual uses for vibrators; it is
                               Lips’s birthday, with the words “Happy Fucking 50”         about time, and how it threatens to fade us out like a song on
                                prettily inscribed in red icing on the cake, and a cou-   the radio, and why, risking ridicule, and leaning on love,
                                 ple of long-term fans, Cut Loose and Mad Dog, all        we should crank up the volume and keep going. Whatever
                                    too welcome to join in. Out of nowhere, a             Lips maintains, not all has been said and done.

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