Anvil! The Story of Anvil
For nearly three decades, band mates and best friends Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner have seen their contemporaries go on to bigger and better things while they struggle to catch a break. Lifetime Anvil fan Sacha Gervasi sought to make this documentary partly out of his own love for the band but also as his own way of helping bring them some long overdue attention.
The film starts with footage from the Super Rock festival in Japan in 1984. Three of the headline acts were Bon Jovi, The Scorpions and Whitesnake, all of whom went on to great fame and fortune as Heavy Metal became increasingly popular throughout the 1980s. The fourth headline act was a band few of us will have heard: Anvil. Fast forward a few decades - we get a glimpse of this band now, playing to a small room full of dedicated fans back in their native Canada. Both Steve and Robb work menial jobs in order to make ends meet but they truly live for those brief moments up on stage.
Gervasi follows the band as they embark on an ill-fated European tour which despite starting out as an exciting adventure soon descends into farce as the venues get smaller, the money gets scarcer and relationships between the band get more strained. It’s a fascinating insight into the life of a touring band and if you’ve ever spent any time on the road yourself you will find much to relate to with vanishing promoters and crowds that barely reach double figures plaguing the band at every turn. It’s a fascinating insight to anyone who hasn’t experienced a tour as the supposed glamour of being in a rock band is brought sharply into focus.
Without giving the whole game away, despite the hardships experienced along the way, there is some light at the end of the tunnel here. You desperately want Steve and Robb to do well as they are two incredibly likeable guys who just want to do what they love for a living. It’s inspiring to see them stick by their passion for so long and you can’t help but root for them as the film goes on.
There are a variety of famous faces who pop up to talk of their love of the band and explain how inspired they were by Anvil: Slash, Lars Ulrich and Lemmy to name a few.
Just when you think the fairy-tale ending is just out of reach and maybe the band are doomed to fail yet again, there is a definite feel-good ending which will reaffirm your faith in the rock and roll gods. By the time the finale rolls around, if you don’t have a goofy grin on your face you must truly have a heart of stone.
If Anvil! represents the harsh reality of life on the road, then what better way to follow it up than with an hilarious spoof documentary on that exact same topic.
This is Spinal Tap
Director Rob Reiner, in the guise of filmmaker Marti DiBergi, presents this rockumentary following British rock band Spinal Tap on their 1982 American tour. The band consists primarily of David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls, played by stars Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, who along with keyboardists Viv Savage and a variety of different drummers, are striving to prove they are still as hard rocking and popular as ever.
Simply put, this is one of the funniest films you can ever hope to see. While the fake documentary is a tried and tested trick nowadays, back in 1984 it was a fresh and interesting concept which was put to great effect by Reiner and the cast who ad-libbed the vast majority of the movie. With Heavy Metal at its height in the mid 80’s, it was prime time for someone to poke fun at the grandiose pomposity and the delusions of grandeur which afflicted so many bands during this period.
Famously, the three leads all played their own instruments in the film and still perform as Spinal Tap to this very day. Such timeless classics as Sex Farm, Big Bottom and of course Stonehenge, are a joy to behold, with such choice lyrics as “the bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin. That’s what I said. The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand, or so I have read.”
The band head out on their US tour full of confidence and swagger but as gigs get cancelled and new album ‘Smell the Glove’ runs afoul of the censors due to its sexist cover art, tension get strained and divisions begin to arise within the group. As the film progresses, we also get the full backstory of the band including the extensive list of former drummers and their variety of strange demises (including of course one bizarre gardening accident). There’s the odd reflective moment with each individual band member, including Nigel’s haunting classical piano piece that is influenced by Mozart and Bach, which he calls ‘Lick my love-pump’.
Throughout the film though, despite their egotistical ways, you’re never anything but fully behind these loveable idiots. Whether they are getting lost backstage, getting frustrated over the small bread on the rider or being mistakenly laden with a miniature Stonehenge stage prop that is in danger of being crushed by a dwarf, you know they will somehow come out of it all OK. They are great rock and roll survivors and if exploding drummers and interfering girlfriends can’t stop them, nothing will.
There are few films that can match This Is Spinal Tap for consistent belly laughs, and for me only Airplane or Anchorman come even close. My advice is to crank it all the way up to 11 and enjoy rock and roll royalty in action.
If you are already well versed in Tap have seen the film umpteen times, may I suggest watching it with the commentary turned on. The three leads do the voice over in character and it’s basically like watching a whole new film.
So there you have it, folks - at 163 minutes long, this is the perfect double bill of METAL.