The world, especially in the realm of creative enterprise, is not a meritocracy. Deep down, we'd like to believe that we inhabit a fair and just universe where those with the most talent and devoted work ethic will meet with the most success. But that's not how the world works and the bigger question becomes what you do to keep chasing your dreams when you can do everything right and still meet with failure.
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" is one of the most inspiring and uplifting documentaries in recent memory because it is the story of two talented rockers who refuse to be defeated by life dealing them a shitty hand. The film opens as metal legends like Slash from Guns N Roses and Lemmy from Motörhead sing the praises of an unknown band named "Anvil". We see how Anvil rocks the stage at the Super Rock Festival in Japan in the Summer of 1984 and they keep the company of bands like Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi but the question is why did those bands succeed while Anvil fell into obscurity?
Except the answer to that question isn't really that important. While I'll admit I have a continuing curiosity as to what happened in the twenty years between that festival and when the film was shot and whether their lack of success was due to mistakes on their part, disasters beyond their control, or a mixture of both. But ultimately, that answer is irrelevant because to do so would try to put Anvil back into the realm of a fair and just universe. We could cry "Oh, if only they hadn't done this!" or "If only this evil person hadn't screwed them over!" and we do get hints of what went wrong throughout the film (the lack of a talented manager, getting screwed over by record labels), but that's all about looking back when what makes "Anvil!" such a powerful film is that it's about looking forward and fighting for your dream rather than 20/20 hindsight.
The documentary follows the trials and tribulations of lead singer and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner. The two are the founding members of Anvil, lifelong friends, they're now in their fifties, and they still rock. But they're not selfish dreamers. They have families, they work nine-to-five jobs that they hate, but they haven't given up the dream. The film follows their attempts to struggle through their endless frustrations as they try to book a tour through Europe and record a new album.
Some have compared to the film to "This Is Spinal Tap" but that's not really a fair comparison. "Spinal Tap" while inarguably a must-watch classic, is more of a satire, while this is a compelling documentary about how two life-long rockers really would feel if they happened to be billed below a puppet show. Furthermore, these are two men who have been stripped of their egos. I was reminded more of "The Wrestler" as it summons a beautiful mixture of emotions watching these men, as Dylan Thomas said, "Rage against the dying of the light". It speaks to that desire in all of us that our dreams are not dead as long as we continue to fight for them. It's a sentiment that "Anvil!" conveys with complete honesty.
This film is not a hagiography. Kudlow and Reiner are not perfect men who have had a run of bad luck and want our pity. Kudlow is prone to fits of anger and Reiner can be passive to the point of somnambulism. But it's the brotherhood of these two men who are forever united in this endeavor to rock the world that transcends the personal rivalries and frustrations. We may not always agree with Kudlow or Reiner's attitudes, but we're always cheering for them.
Oh yeah, and the film does rock. While the story of struggling dreams can be found in a multitude of professions, finding it in a heavy metal group keeps the film energized beyond the personalities of its protagonists. Even if you're not a metal fan, you may find yourself head-banging to some of their tunes. "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" lets us all know that we should not only respect this band's music, but the musicians and anyone else who finds a way to keep rocking.
Rating ----- A minus