If “This is Spinal Tap” were true, it might be a very sad movie. Considering that, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” must be a ballad.
Anvil is an early ‘80s hair metal band that is so obscure that this documentary is now a pivotal part in their history. Although they toured with Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Poison and other up-and-coming metal acts and inspired many more, they were one of the few bands who failed to hit the stage of super stardom.
Now their lead singer, Steve “Lips” Kudlow” and drummer Robb Reiner are 50 and still together after 30 years and 12 albums (they’ve hit 14 since). They refuse to quit, and this rockumentary commissioned by VH1 and made by Sacha Gervasi, a former Anvil roadie, documents one disastrous tour and the production of their album “This is Thirteen.”
Consider just how pitiful their career as musicians is 30 years after their prime. Anvil is booked on a European tour in tiny bars across the continent, losing their way to the club, not getting paid by the owner and playing to sometimes as few as a dozen people, one caught sitting in a plush arm chair and headbanging in comfort.
If the movie didn’t make fun of them a little bit, this could be tough to watch. But Gervasi has some fun with the Spinal Tap comparisons. While at a festival, Lips spends the day glad-handing more famous rock stars backstage as though they should remember him. Then he realizes that the traffic of people leaving the festival sold out the train, leaving them stranded.
Gervasi even puts Reiner and Lips in a dingy diner together and asks them to reminisce about one of their first songs they wrote together. The two of them start singing and humming the tune in perfect harmony, so in sync with one another. It’s a beautiful moment. The song however is called Thumb Hang, named for the Spanish Inquisition torture technique.
The key thing to take away from “Anvil” however is that these are nice guys trying really hard. Yes they wore bondage outfits and played guitar with dildos once, but the way an AllMusic review described their sound was not innovatively aggressive but just overwhelmingly excited. Lips and Reiner are trying so hard to keep this dream alive, and it is a bit crushing to see them have to take telemarketing jobs to support it. In a way, this isn’t a rockumentary but a coming-of-age story 30 years in the making.