Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rocking in Oblivion

Not being a metalhead, I've barely heard of and never actually even heard the subject of Sacha Gervasi's fantastic documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil until this afternoon.

I may never hear them again, but I'll tell you one thing: I wish them all the best, because they are living, noble proof that in rock and roll (and in every field of art and entertainment) there are some people who never stop paying their dues, especially ones who once looked like they had it made.

According to such confirmed fans as Slash from Guns N' Roses, Lemmy from Motorhead, Lars Ulrickson from Metallica and numerous others, Anvil set the bar back in the heavy metal boom of the early 1980s. Unfortunately, while the competition rose into the stratosphere, Anvil only mustered one song, "Metal on Metal," and then basically sank into obscurity.

The main reason, according to the film, is bad production and bad management, but the overriding one simply seems to be bad luck, which only gets worse as the years roll on and younger bands roll in.

Nonetheless, 30 years down the road, the band's two dominant members -- lead singer and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner -- refuse to let their dream die. They've long since taken on day jobs, with Kudlow working for a catering service and Reiner doing some kind of construction work, but they still make records and still tour, hoping against hope that this will, finally, be their year.

Seemingly cursed to always wind up back where they started, Kudlow and Reiner (apparently the only remaining members of the original band) gear up for yet another Sisyphean struggle against ever increasing odds. With a new manager named Tiziana Arrigoni, a well-intentioned but incompetent Italian fan who can barely speak English, Anvil takes a depressing (but often hilarious) trek through Europe, in which they see old friends playing stadiums, find themselves playing small, dimly-lit clubs, encounter at least one deadbeat club owner -- who nearly gets his ass handed to him by Kudlow -- and miss first train and then plane connections.

Time to pack it in after all this time? That's a constant matter of discussion, but the dream is still out there, just waiting to happen; after all, they have enough material for a new album and a chance to work once again with Chris Tsangarides, the metal wunderkind who produced "Metal On Metal."

At least one reviewer, I noticed, has called Anvil the greatest rock movie since "This is Spinal Tap," and Gervasi (a former Anvil roadie) slyly alludes to its predecessor in a shot that made everyone in the audience laugh; there are some control knobs, as it turns out, that actually do go up to 11. But I also found myself thinking of another Canadian pair, Bob and Doug McKenzie from SCTV's "Great White North," who founght constantly but who gave their all to a little cable access show no one watched.

The two band members could almost be brothers, twins in fact -- Kudlow's goofy grin and Reiner's stolid demeanor are all that sets them apart -- and they pursue their crazy dream with the same fearless moxie. Or maybe not so crazy. You know how documentaries are. They have to have an arc, like any story, and this one delivers an ending that you can't help but hope is only, at long last, a beginning.

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