INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review) . "Anvil: The Story of Anvil"

In the early 1980s, after showing enough promise as a leading metals band to appear on the same stage as Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, the band was crushed by the ensuing inattention and obscurity. If it's true, as some say, that they actually influenced those popular bands, then this look at a musical group that never made it is a deep irony, especially for such devoted (one might say obsessed) musicians.

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, best friends lead vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, as faithful as atomic clocks to rock together for the rest of their lives are, at middle age, sustaining their families with the income of menial jobs. Their attempts to promote the band (with two pick-up players), however, has never ceased to be the work that gives them meaning.

They find fan Tziana Arrigoni to arrange a tour, but it doesn't earn them a nickle because of an amateur's inability to prevent things going wrong. Bar venues fail to live up to their promises to promote the band's appearance and crowds are too thin for a payoff. When they finally manage to get a meeting with a record company executive to pitch their latest album (see below), the expression of his body language when he plays the first minute of it is exceeded only by the speed with which he gets the band mates out of his office in as kind a way as he can. Any dispassionate party can recognize rejection but the band mates live in hope. The dissappointment comes later, when they get the letter.

After catching the footage of Anvil's act, loud, heavy, metallic, dark leathers, humping their guitars and holding dildos while performing, it took me a while to feel sympathy for the group's plight. A shot of Lips in the nude did nothing to turn that impression around. What did, came in the interview with Lips' sister as she explained why she was giving the band a chunk of her modest savings to allow them to cut the CD they think will finally turn their destiny around.

If I had any doubt about the humanity of performers off the stage, as well as another kind of devotion -- that of family -- it was erased by this good lady's desire to see her brother attain his dream. Sacrifices people make for loved ones are universal and, as in this moment, touching.

The story is spun primarily from Kudlow's viewpoint, and it becomes clear that he's the engine of optimism driving through the rain tunnel of disappointment and never declaring defeat. You can't ignore a guy with his passion and the honesty behind his candor, even as it involves so much humiliation.

Without passing judgement on the music itself but, rather, to break down the possible reason for their struggles, my impression is that the failure had to do, initially, with the tastelessness of the imagery they initially brought to the stage (though the followers of this genre might disagree) and, later, their inability to move on musically from the beats of the 60s and 70s.

Director Sacha Gervasi is unsparing in his documenting of two musical wannabes in a perpetual reach for the brass ring. His depiction is complete enough to include the icy judgement of Robb's wife, that the whole thing is a waste of time and the sooner the boys admit defeat the better. Such splashes of reality are both good and bad as far as providing balance to the piece, and toward generating sympathy and engagement.

In the end, it adds up to a story whose uniqueness might attract a theatre crowd and go a ways toward giving Anvil a last chance at a shot of attention -- if not that elusive recognition and adoration. "This is Thirteen," that album, released in September, 2009, may be that shot.

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The DVD
Anvil's Latest Album: "This Is Thirteen"

In the final chapter, their distribution of the CD to record labels, radio hosts and other industry contacts results in an invitation to appear before a huge and loving audience in Japan. The boys of Anvil are reborn, eating up the effect they're producing with their music, their energy, their wild gyrations. But where it will lead remains unanswered by anything more than what they've always had in great quantity. Hope.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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That's him. "Lips" of Anvil.
Playing at last, for an appreciative audience in Japan.

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