Sacha Gervasi - Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Release year: 2008
Reviewed by Dan
If you have 80 minutes to spare - if you don't then just find them - and if you’re looking for something entertaining to watch, then you should absolutely check out Sacha Gervasi’s superb documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Watch it when you’re feeling low, when you get frustrated because nothing seems to be working out as you expected, watch it on a Sunday lazy afternoon when the gloom of the ending week engulfs you; but whatever the moment, make sure your speakers are turned on at the optimal volume. Because Anvil rocks!

Anvil! The Story of Anvil is about two guys, Lips and Robb, members of the Canadian Heavy Metal band Anvil and their struggle to rise to fame on the occasion of the recording of a new album, This is Thirteen. But there’s a twist. Lips and Robb are both in their fifties and their band spent much of its improbable longevity of 30 years in complete obscurity after a very successful debut in the beginning of the 80s with the album Metal on Metal. So things don’t look exactly rosy for them, but the guys are determined to succeed. Toronto, Canada, is the place where the viewer is first landed; straight inside Lips' and Robb's ecosystem, in their working environment, around their families on the background of a heavy snowy winter. You quickly learn small things about them, how they met back when they were only 14, how they got the idea of writing the song Thumb Hangs, how much it sucks driving a van for a living or how it is to be a long time wife of a stubborn Metal musician. Europe is the second destination, more precisely an Anvil European tour, a first breakthrough for the guys in many years. This tour takes the band to various places, large festivals, obscure clubs, slightly empty concert halls, and gives the viewer the pleasure of having a glimpse at Anvil's good musicianship and good showmanship exploding in front of wild crowds of different sizes going from one attendant to a few hundreds. There are ups and downs, but the downs will be the most remembered because they are of a special flavour composed of outraged band members, ridiculous situations, some tears, a lot of swearing, momentarily disillusionment and a fair share of humour. Back in Toronto after the European tour, the viewer will attend a wedding and Lips' fiftieth birthday party, after which comes the long, strenuous and frustrating road of finding a producer for the new album, finding the money to record it, actually recording it in a stressful process, trying to secure a deal with a record company and trying to make something out of the 1000 CDs printed after the deal fails. But somehow all ends with a glimpse of hope.

What gets this movie going and what kept your reviewer breathless from the beginning until the end is its sheer authenticity - or the impression of authenticity - it delivers. It is indeed rare to see a documentary so blunt about real people in real situations depicted with great care to avoid any slide towards excessive sentimentality or exhuberance. As a viewer one can absolutely relate to whatever situation the guys or their families are going through. This is where Sacha Gervasi's skills are most obvious, in editing - besides the episodic splendind shots of which the one where Robb leaves the recording studio after a fight with Lips is of particular poetry. In a small amount of time the camera diggs deep into the lives of the two protagonists. Whether it follows Lips trying to meet Metal musicians at a Swedish festival, or Robb sharing his paintings and their history, whether it films family members in emotional situations or fights between Lips and Robb during the recording sessions or Lips' outbursts of fury against club owners who don't want to pay them, the camera is always respectful of its subject; it perfectly knows when to stop and cut and when to start shooting again. Nobody is ridiculed, nor does anybody come out as embarassing or, on the contrary, wearing a radiating aura around his head. Nevertheless the main characters and their story have everything to make them touching, funny, outrageous, melodramatic and most of all, inspiring.

So in the end it's a great story, a great feelgood story that will leave you with a smile. After this you will quickly forget Some Kind of Monster and This is Spinal Tap. Metal is more than ever alive and kicking and Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a case in point. Highly recommended.

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