24 March 2009 | ftyl
Forged on the Anvil of obscurity
Anvil! The Story of Anvil begins with testimonials from members of some of the biggest bands of all time; from Guns n' Roses to Metallica. They are all united in their praise for one group which served as an inspiration to each of them in the early 80s. That band was Anvil and footage from a massive concert in Japan shows them sharing the stage with Jon Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, destined to be just as successful as their peers. But it simply never happened. Sacha Gervasi's documentary traces the bands unfortunate history and catches up with them 30 years later, capturing the amazing story of their last-ditch attempt to snatch fame from the jaws of obscurity.
Lips and Robb have been playing music together since they were 14. Now in their 50s they have kept Anvil ticking over, supporting themselves with menial jobs and persisting despite the exasperation of their friends and loved ones. This is a band that really doesn't do it for the money but for the love of the music and the (sometimes disturbing) devotion of the few remaining fans. At this point, their commitment to Anvil seems relatively benign until Lips gets word from an Eastern European woman he met online (yes, really) that she has organised a full European tour for them and suddenly they see one final opportunity to give Anvil the success it deserves.
Anvil is an inspirational story of blind commitment and the bond between friends. Lips and Robb have complimentary but very different characters. Lips is the typically mercurial lead guitarist. Prone to violent outbursts and equally sudden, heartfelt apologies he is the heart of the band but also its biggest liability. Robb is his calm and Zen-like foil (with a penchant for scatological art) and their exchanges are never less than entertaining but are also surprisingly emotional. Lips' melodramatic, snivelling, lip quivering apologies are some of the highlights of the film, with Robb's increasingly uncomfortable reactions a joy to watch. If they ever decide to give up on Anvil (unlikely) they would make a great comedic duo. Indeed it is the humour of the movie which makes it most memorable, with a barrage of major and minor disasters on the European tour reducing the audience to speechless, breathless, hernia-inducing laughter.
Anvil's humour is tempered by a huge amount of respect, channelled through Gervasi's coverage of the band. He toured with them as a roadie in the 80s and his love for the guys and what they do can be seen in every frame. Even when their situation is being ridiculed it is never at the expense of the band and their determination shines through as their defining attribute. Gervasi's work behind the camera is extraordinary. Having such great, trusting subjects is certainly half the battle and the sheer cavalcade of bad luck which they attract is a bonus but Gervasi shows remarkable restraint in every aspect of the film-making, particularly the editing. The difference between a moment that is funny and one that transcends mere humour to become uncomfortable and even emotional is all in the editing and Gervasi knows exactly when to cut to make the movie most affecting.
There is a moment in Anvil! when the band arrives at an important gig already expecting it to be almost empty. Lips' voice-over combines his almost trademarked acceptance with the tiniest glimmer of hope a hope which has never been totally extinguished in 30 years. As they walk through the tunnel to the stage there is a genuine surge of adrenaline and a moment of real emotion. As a viewer you desperately want things to work out for Anvil, just this once, and you will it to happen. That level of connection is rare in dramatic films and practically unheard of in documentaries but Anvil creates and holds that tension in a perfect cinematic moment.
Anvil transcends the sometimes niche position of the documentary to deliver a truly extraordinary piece of cinema. It combines the lasting afterglow of a great concert with that of seeing a fantastic movie in a single package which is touching, funny and hugely entertaining. Even if you abhor heavy metal, are generally ambivalent about documentaries and think you couldn't care less about this bands bizarre longevity you simply have to experience Anvil!