Sasha Gervasi's new documentary, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" tells the tale of a failed metal Canadian metal band. In the 1980's, the band found themselves headed down the same road as Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, but their endless attempts at stardom never reached a tipping point. Founded in 1973 by Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner in Toronto, footage of Anvil features screaming crowds and guitars picked with dildos, until we are thrust into the present-day reality of Lips delivering school lunches and Robb doing handy work for cash while the band members continue to await their big break.
The film reaches moments of such heightened drama between Lips and Robb that it might easily be mistaken for an updated, Canadian version of "This is Spinal Tap," but the earnestness with which the band continues to try to live the dream is steeped in sincerity. Lips and Robb behave like a married couple with impassioned arguments and reconciling lovefests that can only be endearing. Meanwhile, their families at home continue to be supportive, with wives who share the dream, children wearing amazing t-shirts, and an admirably supportive sister who finances the band's latest push towards stardom, which features a disasterous european tour and a belabored new album.
Sacha Gervasi was a roadie for Anvil in the mid-eighties, and his access to the band creates a surprisingly detailed portrait. Reiner shows a heart-wrenching childhood photograph as he talks about his father's survival of the holocaust and Auschwitz. We see hints of the growing love between lead guitarist Ivan Hurd and failed tour manager Tiziana who, despite being unable to decipher a train schedule or get the band paid, ends up keeping her job as Hurd's head rests in her lap and the couple ultimately get married. We see dismal meetings with record labels, petty fights, and gently concerned relatives, but most remarkable is the undying enthusiasm and hard-won optimism displayed by Lips. He struggles and invests wholeheartedly in the band, and still ends up fighting his innate Canadian politeness in a telemarketing job offered by a superfan in order to make ends meet. Everything has gone wrong, but still the 50 year-old singer remarks, "at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on."