Anyone who knows anything about rock 'n' roll understands that "art by committee" is a precarious proposition at best. Even under the most ideal of circumstances, rock bands rarely survive the terrible twos (post-second album) — and those that do tend to leave long and twisted legacies of breakups, makeups and predictably revolting latter-era catalogs.
But for Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner of Toronto metal monsters Anvil, no amount of dashed career promises, failed record sales or hand-to-hand combat (these two like to manifest their "creative differences" physically) is going to keep them from the teenage dream. In 1974, the two made a pact to rock their way to the top — even if took the rest of their natural lives.
Amazingly, it has.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the new documentary by band friend and fan Sacha Gervasi, follows the group from its basement beginnings through its crusade to release the 2007 album, This Is Thirteen. The film opens with the spectacular 1984 "Japan Super Rock" festival, which, along with Anvil, featured Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Scorpions and the Michael Schenker Group. "In the summer of 1984," the subtitles proclaim, "some of the biggest bands in the world toured Japan together. All of these bands went on to sell millions of records ... except one."
Yup, you guessed which one. Shortly thereafter, the filmmaker shows Lips, trussed up in a studded dog collar and bondage gear, playing guitar with a long white dildo. This is the moment when you start wondering if this could actually be real. Rutles-style testimonies by rock star heavies such as Slash and Lemmy Kilmister, intercut with live footage of the band in all its spandexed, hair-thrashing glory, only further the "mockumentary" feel of Anvil! But once Gervasi moves on to show the fiftysomething Lips hoisting stacks of school lunch trays into a truck for his day job, the film starts to look more like The Wrestler than This Is Spinal Tap.
There is a third primary character in all this, and that is the incredible enthusiasm that Lips and Robb are able to maintain for the band through 35 years, 13 albums and a million broke-ass shows. Bonded for life by their devotion to Anvil, both are family men whose wives, kids and assorted siblings show saintly levels of support, and, at times, the appropriate amount of skepticism. "It's over. It's been over for a long time," muses Robb's nay-saying sister, Droid. "It's just too bad that nobody's living in the real world.
But rock 'n' roll isn't about the "real world." And as Robb, Lips and the boys go careening through a disastrous European tour, we feel for them in a way that transcends the seeming ridiculousness of their quest. You'll find yourself genuinely wanting them to beat the odds
Though the film ends a little abruptly, the characters, the story, and the band itself (which is awesome) make for a highly entertaining trek through the tangled undergrowth of the hair-metal jungle. "We're gonna be rock stars!" Lips enthuses, near the film's conclusion. "It's our dream, and I'm gonna make it come true.
God love 'em. I hope he's right.
Wendy Case writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].