Anvil! The Story of Anvil is sort of a metal version of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler: '80s pop culture icon gives way to '90s irrelevance, which gives rise to an attempted comeback this century. It even has a service industry hairnet scene. Both movies are more than the heartwarming stories they are made out to be. Anvil's tale has even more bite, due to it being real life.

Metal on Metal

The documentary gets off to an unpromising start. It shows the band down and out, playing to tiny audiences, with fans that embody the worst of metalhead stereotypes. Thankfully, this is not a typical portrayal by outsiders that exoticizes or mocks metal. It is also not the uncritical, for-fans-only pap that fills many metal DVD's today. Rather, it is a film about people. Metal happens to be the context.

Anvil frontman "Lips" Kudlow is incredibly candid and honest throughout. In fact, he is much more compelling as a civilian than as a musician. (Granted, the filmmakers focus more on his person than his music.) While Anvil may have been influential in their prime, it's easy to see why they didn't enjoy the success of contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Priest, too, had lyrics with seventh-grade sexual humor, but they also had Rob Halford's mighty pipes and an incomparable twin axe attack. Anvil had neither. They tried to compensate with hard work, but, as the film points out, bad management can ruin everything.

Photo by Brent J. Craig

For all of Anvil's shortcomings, their degree of misfortune is still shocking. Now that old-school metal is hip again, it's bewildering to see them get rejected by label after label as they try to stage a comeback. This Is Thirteen, the record they shopped around when the documentary was made, sounds like a million bucks, thanks to production by Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest, Biomechanical). It actually cost 12 or 13,000 pounds; some of the movie's most heartbreaking moments come when the band members grapple with this expense. Interestingly, their families are not all supportive. Some believe in these men's right to pursue their dreams. Others view the matter with colder, more practical eyes.

Unlike Metallica in Some Kind of Monster, these men have little to lose and are thus easy to cheer for. But is "the right to rock" a constitutional right? These men have families and responsibilities, and they put themselves into situations where being in a band, especially one like Anvil, is potentially injurious not only to themselves but also others. The movies always tell us to pursue our dreams. Pursuing one's dreams is the best reason for getting up in the morning. But when is enough enough?

Ironically, Anvil have delayed that point for a while with this film. It is the best possible publicity for the band, with more reach than a hundred publicists could provide. Now anyone who walks into the right movie theater (which now is a higher probability than with a record store) can see and hear Anvil. Additionally, Anvil's inability to secure a record deal may have prolonged their longevity. Instead of being indentured to a label, they financed and sold This Is Thirteen themselves. Thus, they cut out the middlemen and keep all the profits. Their fans, who are older, are more likely to buy CD's than to download the album. It was almost a brilliant move. That is, until I went to their website to buy the CD. It costs 20 euros or 25 Canadian dollars, currently approximately 22 US dollars. Evidently, the band still lacks good management.

- Cosmo Lee

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