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ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (director:Sacha Gervasi; cinematographer: Chris Soos; editors: Jeff Renfroe/Andrew Dickler; music: David Norland; cast: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner, G5, Ivan Herd, Chris Tsangarides, Tiziana Arrigoni, Cut Loose, Mad Dog, Lars Ulrich, Lemmy, Scott Ian, Slash, Tom Araya; Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rebecca Yeldham; VH1 Classic; 2008)
“Its touching human interest story about survival hit me in the gut.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time director Sacha Gervasi, a British screenwriter (The Terminal) who was a roadie for Anvil as a teenager, helms with great passion this rock-doc about obscure aging Canadian heavy metal musicians making a last-ditch effort at fame and fortune. It has a real-life pathos that caught my interest even though I could care less about the heavy metal music, as its touching human interest story about survival hit me in the gut.

Anvil (named for a blacksmith’s tool) is a four-man thrash group formed in 1982 by two childhood pals from Toronto, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner. Lips is the middle son in a working-class Jewish family of overachievers, while Robb is the sheltered offspring of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. With Robb on drums and Lips on guitar (in the beginning using a dildo as his slide) and vocals, the boys released the album Metal on Metal and in 1984 played in the Super Rock concert in Japan, where other groups on the card included Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. All these group went on to have million dollar selling albums and tremendous fame, while Anvil fell under the radar and was forgotten even though they were an influence on all these groups.

The story picks up currently where the rockers are now family men in their fifties, with working-class day jobs to support themselves and unfulfilled dreams to become popular. The founders recruit two new band members in the 1990s and in 2002 go on a mismanaged, disastrous European tour (the promoters refuse to pay them). But afterwards record their 13th album under producer Chris Tsangarides, and in conclusion there’s a well-deserved triumphant return to Japan after 20-plus years.

The familiar underdog follow your dream story is presented here without sentimentality, awkwardness or false steps. It’s one of the more pleasing rock on! documentaries I’ve seen, where I actually found the rockers (who engage in a healthy bromance) likable, intelligent (but certainly not cunning) and maybe more ego-less than most rockers. Their main fault, perhaps, is that they’re too nice to be heavy metal rockers and therefore are frequently taken advantage of. Anvil is meant to be viewed as the real-life Spinal Tap. The tragicomedy film is replete with vintage archive clips from Anvil’s heyday and with them playing the current dinghy club circuit in Ontario.

REVIEWED ON 11/18/2009 GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”