Friday, October 16, 2009

 

Metal on celluloid

By Edward Copeland
With my access to new films growing more limited with each passing week, it's hard for me to say with any certainty if the recent trend has remained true that nonfiction films still prove more consistently worthwhile than fictional efforts. This year, I've only seen one documentary so far, but it is by far one of the most satisfying film experiences I've had and I don't have a single heavy metal CD in my extensive collection, let alone one by Anvil, the subject of Anvil: The Story of Anvil.


Even in my youth I was never remotely a headbanger, yet for the second time in recent memory a documentary about a heavy metal band (the other being Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) kept me riveted. Of course, the stories of the two bands couldn't be more different.

Metallica enjoyed huge success. Somehow, despite critical acclaim within the genre and some early, highly touted albums, stardom eluded Anvil. Metallica's Lars Ulrich even gives an extended interview on the DVD talking about how he heard of Anvil and how big an influence the band's drummer, Robb Reiner, had at the time, fielding offers from many large acts.

Still, the Canadian band stuck together, having to work other jobs and recording albums on their or using vacation time to accept whatever tour or gigs they can book. As all the band's members, having been together for more than two decades, are near or past 50, director Sacha Gervasi chronicles the group and their lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow" as they embark on a disastrous European tour and then self-finance what appears to be a shot at a great, polished comeback album by a noted record producer who worked on some of their early albums as well as those of other notable artists'.

Lips provides the heart of the band and of the film. Anvil is his obsession and his life's work and even though other members of the band and their families know that on some level Lips is a heavy metal Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and pursuing campaigns that were lost to the band long ago, quit doesn't exist in his vocabulary. However, Lips is not a subject of mockery as far as the documentary is concerned. He is a dreamer and he loves his music and will keep making it. You can't help but think of This Is Spinal Tap with a drummer named Robb Reiner, a shot of a knob being turned to 11 and a visit to Stonehenge, but Anvil never laughs at the band's expense.

You root for these middle-age men even if you'd never buy one of their albums yourself. People this committed to what they love and willing to sacrifice so much to pursue it for so long turns out to pretty amazing and awe-inspiring. There also are lots of nice swipes at the record industry and though I have no first-hand knowledge of the industry, when Lips claims that an overwhelming number of musicians never get paid by the labels.

I have no trouble believing that when you see the greedy way they demand repeat payments, ruining old movies and TV shows with their Mafia-like extortion tactics. The actors and writers and so on keep getting residuals for their work, why do the owners of song have to get so specialized, restrictive deals that some shows never appear on DVD or get lame substitution music, ruining people's precious memories?

Forgive my digression. I got distracted and perhaps the world's distraction at a certain place and time is what prevented Anvil from becoming a megasuccess. Regardless, Lips still is doing what he loves and Sacha Gervasi has made a movie document that preserves for the ages that Anvil was here.


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