I initially wrote this review for Samuel Wilson's Mondo 70 blog back at the end of June, after Sammy & I took in a Saturday matinee of "Anvil". Since the movie has now been released on DVD, and had its TV debut, predictably, on VH1 Classic on Oct. 3, I thought I'd revisit my review of the movie, so here we go!
They say that in show business, you've got to have a gimmick. In the 80's, it wasn't enough to call yourself a heavy metal band. You had to have some sort of gimmick to stand out from the rest. That's why you saw the emergence of "hair bands" like Bon Jovi (who've since lost the long hair and are more of a pop-rock combo), and "glam bands" like Motley Crue & Twisted Sister. Anvil didn't fit into either of those categories. They were a group of average guys from Canada trying to make it big. The closest they had to a gimmick was lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow wearing a bondage collar and using a dildo on his guitar. Kudlow and drummer/co-founder Robb Reiner had been friends since they were teens, and despite the arguments and disputes that come with the territory, they stuck it out, never giving up the dream.
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" opens with the band sharing a bill at a 1984 concert with the Scorpions, Whitesnake (who'd actually break through 3 years later), and Bon Jovi, who were just starting out and had released their debut album. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich may have actually hit the nail on the head when he suggested that maybe what held Anvil back was the fact they were from Canada. The Great White North had given us in the 80's acts as diverse as Triumph, Bryan Adams, April Wine, and the McKenzie Brothers. Triumph was the closest thing to a metal band that Canada had to offer, though Anvil kept pounding on the door. What hurt Anvil more was a glaring lack of faith from the independent labels that signed them, and poor management. Yet still they soldiered on.
Anvil's story, really, is no different than the dozens, nay, hundreds of bands of every genre trying to make it in the business every day, every year. All the hard work that goes into cutting demos, rehearsing, booking gigs, etc., has to have a payoff somewhere. It's the fact that Anvil had been on the doorstep of fame 25 years ago, then disappeared practically overnight, that makes this story, coupled with Kudlow's unwavering vision. It speaks to the blue collar, aspiring musicians who've endured the same hardships, though perhaps not as extreme as Anvil's, in their quests to make the big time.
What I didn't mention in the review was that I drew from personal experience, as I have friends who've played in regional bands and have faced similar roadblocks. Regardless of what genre of music you're playing, be it metal, country, gospel, or alternative rock, the movie does serve as a primer on those roadblocks. VH1 Classic will replay the movie as often as they feel the need, in order to promote the DVD and recoup production costs, since the network helped produce the movie. Standard operating procedure for one of the MTV Networks family of channels.
Edit: 4/11/14: Here's the trailer: