Bob Seeger once argued that rock and roll "never forgets" - and if you happen to be as vital a part of the musical landscape as the mighty Detroit demi-god, you have a point. No matter what happens, no matter how many concerts you sell out (or fail to fill) someone like Seeger has made it. He's part of the always changing sonic fabric. But for bands like Anvil, journeymen who face down the ever-changing choices in the genre divide, rock and roll has a fairly poor memory. As originators (or perhaps more appropriately, original advocators) of a new kind of thrash speed metal, the Canadian quartet rose rapidly into the ranks of soon-to-be-superstars. They released the classic Metal on Metal album in 1982 and participated in the Super Rock Festival in Japan. They shared the stage with bands like Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, and the Scorpions. But as the amazing documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil points out, there needs to be a little luck alongside the audience appreciation and critical consensus. Sadly, the band that inspired a dozen far more popular imitators ended up more or less disregarded. Take that, Mr. "Night Moves".
In the early '80s screenwriter/director Sacha Gervasi was a geeky metalhead with a love for the band Anvil. Falling in with the group, he became a roadie and eventually a lifelong friend of founders Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner. Learning that the boys were still together in 2006 and ready to embark on a "major" European tour, Gervasi grabbed a video camera and set out to follow his favorite act. What he discovered along the way was none other than a story of heartbreak and brotherhood, friendship and the enduring desire to follow one's dream. As various members of the rock elite (Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Slash of Guns and Roses and Velvet Revolver) wax poetic about their love for Anvil, we literally watch as Lips and Robb struggle. Their promising tour falls apart. They bicker with each other. Their families (for the most part) support their goals, but also find the 50-somethings disconnected from what they feel is reality. Everyone wonders how much longer they can go on. Hoping that their 13th album will change their fortunes, Anvil contacts old pal/producer Chris Tsangarides. They place their future, and the possibility of failing for the last time, in his capable, calculated hands. In their mind, this is it. The moment of truth...or tragedy.
God love Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner. If there is such a thing as karma, these incredibly dedicated Canadian rockers deserve a massive mountain full out it. It's hard to imagine pursuing a vision for decades, to see chances come and go and possibilities peter out thanks to broken promises, unprofessionalism, and a severe lack of providence. At the beginning of Anvil: The Story of Anvil, it's hard to believe that these two over the hill dreamers with defeat at every corner would continue to champion their own artistic possibilities. Indeed, with so many closed doors in their face, their optimism - or the amount of cheerfulness and hope Lips channels for all of them - seems squirrely. But by the end, however, when you see how much the band means to these men, when you recognize that their talents really do deserve attention, when you realize how deep the family feels for their loveably lost kindred, you literally fall in love with these guys. Their stories, especially the secrets kept close the vest, are startling in their sentiment. When director Sacha Gervasi isn't making you laugh, or getting you to pump your fist in full blown hand sign sincerity, he's breaking your heart.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil is without a doubt one of the greatest rock and roll documentaries of all time. It avoids the bullshit posing and the snarky self-aggrandizement of other Behind the Music rock musings to show that the limelight can often be pale and very imperfect. When we meet the middle-aged Lips, he's delivering hot meals to Canadian school children as part of a catering service. The man who we just saw a few minutes before wowing a packed stadium crowd with a deranged dildo/guitar solo (!), is catapulted in time thirty years, stumbling along the frozen sidewalks of a Canadian winter, bringing lunch to the locals. Robb, on the other hand, is a jack of all trades, working construction but also binding his time with such personal hobbies as painting. Together, they are the last vestiges of the old school sense of rock and roll, the belief that endless touring followed by endless recording followed by even more performances will somehow lead to the commercial Promised Land. Instead, Gervasi illustrates brilliantly how nice guys not only finish last, but seem to be left for dead even among those who readily sing their praises once the cameras start rolling. And there's nary a bone being tossed in their direction.
Though some have accused the film of being a Spinal Tap style spoof (even down to the various references made to the movie itself), it is clear that Anvil, Lips and Robb are very, really, very human entities. Both men are complicated, offering a surreal combination of the pragmatic, the wistful, and the ever vigilant. The best thing about Gervasi's film, aside from the clever character study it provides, is the way in which is taps into the universal truth we all acknowledge - the need to be better than who we are, and for some, the unsettling thought that we'll never be more than what we've been. Indeed, Anvil is not just resting on their laurels, endlessly playing their albums from two decades ago in some manner of nostalgia-fueled fallacy. Instead, they dream of the day when they are recognized for what they've always been - a heavy metal band that never gave up on becoming a pivotal part of the mainstream music scene. Oddly enough, a single motion picture may finally push them over the edge into said acceptance. And when it's a certified classic as Anvil: The Story of Anvil, you can't ask for a better "overnight sensation" introduction.
Made up of many sources - old stock footage, grainy video, up-to-date camcorder technology - the overall print for Anvil: The Story of Anvil had the potential for posing numerous optical problems. Luckily the transfer offered by VH-1 Films is fabulous, combining all the competing facets into a clean, crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image. The concert footage is fabulous, while the quieter moments of reflection are captured with expert quality. Gervasi is not going to win any points for directorial flare, but his camera always seems to be at the right place at the right time. As a result, the DVD presentation here is first class.
Provided in either a speaker rattling Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix, or a less impressive standard 2.0 stereo set-up, the aural aspects of Anvil: The Story of Anvil are equally impressive. The dialogue and conversation are always crystal clear (even in circumstances where the recording capabilities were less than perfect) and the music comes across in exquisite amped-up bombast. The whole package is like a love letter to the band, the tech specs making sure that audiences appreciate what Gervasi fell in love with three decades before.
Get ready to have you heart broken all over again as the director invites Lips and Robb into the studio to record a commentary track for the film. It's tremendous. Ever humble, ever reticent to blow their own horn or feed their own ego, the duo discuss the impact of the film on their lives - both professional and personal - as well as filling in the blanks regarding elements left out of the story. In fact, as all three reflect on the fact that the dream finally seems to be coming true, their gratitude and fan appreciation is undeniable. Another excellent bit of added content finds Metallica's Lars Ulrich going overboard in his desire to praise and support Anvil. Though he only appears for a few moments in the movie itself, he actually sat down for an extended interview on the group, offering nearly a half hour of kudos and context. There are also three deleted scenes are part of the package that provide up their own unique, and sometimes sad, perspective on the daily lives of Lips and Robb, as well as a final feature which sees Gervasi sit behind the drums as Anvil plays a raucous take on the song "School Love".
It's rare when a film can uplift your spirit while breaking down your resolve for being cynical and snide. It's also rare for a film to immediately require a revisit, as well as more or less mandating a "what's happened since" sequel. But that's what happens with Anvil: The Story of Anvil. We so desperately want Lips and Robb to succeed, to see them finally rewarded for years of perseverance and pain that when the movie ends on a decidedly high note, we want the good vibrations to go on and on and on. Easily earning the highest accolades here at DVD Talk, this is Collector's Series experience bar none. Sometimes, you have to keep hope alive. At other instances, you have to pray that Mr. Seeger's sentiments eventually spill over onto your particular part of musical history. Without Sacha Gervasi, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner might never have seen Anvil become an international household name. With his help, and their own indomitable spirit, no one should ever forget them now - or ever.