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Review: Anvil - Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Label: VH1 Films
Year released: 2009
Duration: 80 min.

Rating: 5/5

Review online: October 11, 2009
Reviewed by: Michel Renaud
Readers Rating
Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Rated 4.94/5 (98.75%) (32 Votes)

I saw this excellent documentary back in May in the theater, so I was wondering whether it was worth buying the DVD (I rarely watch DVDs more than once or twice.) Well, the bonus material made it worth the purchase… We'll get to that later.

For those who have been living in a cave, The Story of Anvil is a documentary about Canadian heavy metallers Anvil, shot by a long-time fan of the band, Sacha Gervasi. When this all started, Anvil had 12 albums out, yet remained pretty much underground despite gaining some recognition back in the first half of the 80s. This documentary was filmed over a long period, which includes the recording and release of their 13th album, This is Thirteen.

The documentary revolves mostly around the two original members of Anvil, guitarist/vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner. We get an insight into their day jobs, their families and a few diehard fans. Then the band goes onto what seems like a tour in hell in Europe – kicking off with a few good shows but slowly turning into near disaster. Five weeks later, the band hadn't made a penny and were back to their day jobs in Toronto. Watching a band like Anvil struggle like this on a tour is either heart-wrenching or plain upsetting, though they manage to bring up a smile here and there. Lots of intense moments all along.

Back from the tour, it's time to look into recording This is Thirteen, the band hooking up with British producer Chris Tsangarides who had produced Metal on Metal and Forged in Fire in the early 80s. Then comes the difficult process of gathering the money for the studio time – attempts at side jobs, etc… I don't want to give out too many details, so let's leave it at that. Back to England for the recording, where things get pretty tense between Lips and Robb, but eventually they get the work done. Then it's a tour of the various record companies in L.A., and it's as "anonymous" and indifferent as you might imagine. Then a last attempt back in Toronto with a stop by EMI Music. I remember getting pretty upset when I saw this part in the theater, and the second time around was no better. As most people who have followed Anvil know, they ended up releasing This is Thirteen by themselves in 2007, before VH1 Classic Records reissued it following the release of the documentary.

Now, it may sound like I gave it all away here, but trust me, each of the segments I mentioned above is filled with a lot of details – funny, sad, maddening, touching – you name it. Everyone I've talked to who saw the movie said they could be laughing out loud one minute and have a tear in their eye the next. There are several interviews with family members – wives and sisters especially – which are every interesting.

My impression of some parts of the movie was that they felt too "reality TV"-like – for example Lips and Robb in very tense arguments on tour and in the studio – it felt a little fake to me (though the arguments were real – my guess was that the presence of the camera may have had a bit to do with the way they were speaking (yelling...)) That didn't prevent the movie from being great, but, you know, me and reality TV. Enough said. :) Also, watching the final result, one may have thought that the whole thing was scripted, since the camera was always in the right place in the right time. Well, this brings me to the "Audio commentary" bonus. I thought this would just be Sacha talking for a few minutes. Boy, was I in for a treat. The is actually the whole movie shown with an alternate audio track, with Sacha, Lips and Robb commenting on just about every scene in the movie. So, basically, you're watching the movie again. You can hear the normal track lower in the background, but this is really about the commentary. This is where we learn that, for example, the cameraman wasn't far from Lips' house, so whenever something was about to happen about the band, he'd come in and film – which takes care of the "being in the right place at the right time", mentioned earlier. Things like Lips mailing a tape to the producer in England were apparently all real and not just a re-enactment – they had no idea what would happen at that time, none of this stuff was scripted. The audio commentary alone makes it worth buying the DVD, since it answers a lot of questions that may pop in your head while watching the main feature. Putting this on here was a brilliant idea.

There is an extended interview with Lars Ulrich of Metallica, which lasts about 30 minutes (they had been told they could get five minutes, he said ten, and he apparently gave 40, so there!) Very interesting stuff. Lars shares a lot of insights with the early 80s metal scene, what he thinks may have gone wrong, the whole nine yards. It doesn't matter whether you like the guy or not – when it comes to that era, he's an authority on the subject.

Then there are deleted scenes, like a few minutes at Lips' job where they chat a little bit with some of his co-workers (I remember thinking this was missing when I first saw the movie), a couple of short interviews with the original guitarist and bassist, a little take about one of Lips' brothers who has a serious illness. Plus a few other things that I'll let you discover. Can't give it all to you on a silver platter now, right? ;)

The Story of Anvil is a great tribute to Anvil's tenacity – 30+ years being bounced from label to label to no fucking label, never giving up and just doing something they love and releasing album after album, even during the 90s when many of their contemporaries just vanished, some coming back sometime after 2000 when things picked up again. At the same time you can think of all the other bands going through such hard times, toughing it out and sometimes living in near poverty just to do what they love and bring you the music you love. Some people often ask me why I hate prefabricated garbage such as American Idol, Canadian Idol and the countless others in the same style. Well, this movie here is probably the best answer: Bands that do what they love, play their music – not some corporately-engineering garbage to cater to the trend of the hour, and don't rely on some cheap-ass annoying-as-fuck TV shows where every fucker sounds the same to get their 15 minute of fame, and whoever doesn't make the audition will just fucking give up (which is good, in this particular case…)

Were it for the movie alone, I wouldn't give this a perfect rating (but very close), however the bonus features take care of the few things I thought were missing – and more, thanks to that excellent audio commentary. So, yes, if you've already seen the movie, the DVD is worth the money. Mandatory.

Additional Information

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