The 2007 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil
is one of the most wonderful movies I've seen in years. It tells the true story of heavy-metal semi-legends Anvil
, a band formed by two Jewish kids from Toronto's suburbs when they were 14, and which they've kept going to this day, as both men edge up on 60.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil has a very weird relationship with This is Spinal Tap (for starters, Anvil's drummer is named Robb Reiner!): the movie is shot through with scenes that are almost line-for-line remakes of Tap, as when the boys sit around a deli recounting their early song "Thumbscrew," composed after a history class about the Spanish Inquisition. And the Anvil boys are very likeable heavy-metal doofuses: they play suburban Toronto venues for die-hard fans -- other middle-aged rockers who can drink a bottle of beer through one nostril while throwing devil-horns and chanting Satanic metal lyrics.
But there's lots of pathos and heart here too: Lips, the lead singer, is an artist who's given up everything to pursue his dreams. Instead of getting an education and a good job -- like his brother and sister, both middle-class, respectable types -- he drives a truck for a catering company that provides school lunches. He's a heavy metal god in a hairnet, pulling minimum wage delivering bananas and tuna casserole.
But Anvil was nearly great in their heyday. The movie opens with them playing the 1984 Super Rock in Japan, sharing a stage with The Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi (the movie also features interviews with successful metalheads like Slash, Lars Ulrich and Lemmy, singing the praises of Anvil). These bands go on to greatness. Anvil -- plagued by bad management and crappy label support -- have been stuck in the snowy Toronto suburbs, the children of holocaust survivors, doing all that they can to reassure their doubtful (but loving) families that they aren't wasting their lives.
And Anvil's members aren't willing to give up on their dreams. They go on a European tour booked by an insane (but clearly dedicated) fan who appoints herself their manager. Their gigs are often disastrous, and they go home with nothing in their pockets and go back to work at their day-jobs.
But they persevere. They sacrifice everything, they risk their friendships and their families, they risk homelessness, and they never, ever stop. Lips spends a lot of the movie in tears, or feuding with Robb, and it's clear that he's half-mad with this boyhood dream that's grown to take over his life.
Somehow, the bathos and pathos add up to a moving tribute to the human spirit. For every scene in which Lips rocking out on stage with his flying-vee (he uses a dildo as a slide and wears a bondage harness), there's a matching scene, like the one in which his loving, bourgeois older sister fronts him the money to record the band's next album.
It's a wonderful movie, one that'll have you laughing with a tear in your eye. And you know what? Anvil's music is pretty badass. That thirteenth album they're recording in the second act is wicked (my wife texted me from bed, as I was watching it late last night: TOO LOUD. BED TIME NOW. THAT SONG'S QUITE GOOD).
Anvil! The Story of Anvil