If the power of a documentary is in its ability to evoke an emotional response through a glimpse at a real world story, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is perhaps one of the very best I've seen. Screenwriter gone director Sacha Gervasi (who grew up a metal fan himself) has managed to craft a visual experience that will both wrench your tear ducts and funny bone. If you just happen to be a rock or metal fan (especially one over 30), its effects will be exponential.
Anvil is of course one of Canada's premier and longest surviving metal bands, and their first few records were influential on a host of far more successful metal acts in the mid to late 80s. We are treated with various clips of Lars Ulrich, Slash, Lemmy, Scott Ian, etc voicing their opinion about this band they loved, and a hint of surprise that the Canadians never blew up. There is a later scene in which Lips and crew are performing in Europe and getting the chance to speak with many of their own idols (Carmine Appice, Tommy Aldridge, and a pretty poignant clip with J.J. French of Twisted Sister). These add a masterful dash of spice to the film as we see the reverence the band themselves has for their art, and that others feel for them despite their obscurity in the mainstream these past three decades.
The film focuses primarily on Lips and drummer Rob Reiner, though you'll see plenty of Ivan Hurd and Glenn Five (guitarist and bassist that joined Anvil in the 90s, Hurd has since left.) You'll witness the kind of arguments that often occur in live and studio situations, made all the more intense by the pair's long-standing partnership. Scattered in are scenes with the band's families, generally supportive. A great scene with Lips and his older sister will gut you. I was particularly fascinated by the touring scenes through Europe. Anvil has always delivered to both large and small crowds (I personally have seen them perform in front of the latter on numerous occasions), an entertaining set with great sound, and the documentary seems to capture this. Seeing the band on the road, facing a few scenes of turmoil and misunderstanding was the real meat of this film, alongside the band's journey to re-hire famed producer Chris Tsangarides. I would have liked a lot more of these hands-on experiences, and I'm hoping when I get the DVD it will include some footage from the 300+ hours of filming lost to the cutting room floor.
The documentary strikes all the right nerves, especially in musicians, great or small. Personally I've never played outside my region of the country, but even I found many of the situations too familiar. The pacing is great, and 'stars' Kudlow and Reiner are both sincere throughout, as we examine their often turbulent relationship through the looking glass. An excellent and uplifting final live scene show the band playing Japan for the first time in decades.
Though its appeal might be strongest to musicians, I'd highly recommend it to anyone. You could consider this the metal counterpart to The Wrestler, since it offers you a glimpse into the dire realities of aging, and the inherent will to recapture those lost 15 minutes of fame for any artist or performer. Of course, the irony is that in recounting the lost potential for success, this band has found more success than ever. All because of a great fan/director who has remained true to his passions all these years.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]