By Willie Krischke — June 9, 2009
There are moments when it is almost impossible to believe that “Anvil” is not a mockumentary. It feels enough like an alt-universe sequel to “This is Spinal Tap” to make your head spin. There’s even a guy named Rob(b) Reiner involved. Weird.
This is the story of a mostly unsuccessful heavy/hair metal band. Helmed by vocalist “Lips” and drummer Reiner, they’ve gone through countless lineups over thirty years, and are still looking for their big break. They still think that one of these days, some record label’s going to realize how great they are, and make them stars. Or are they joking? I can’t really tell.
It helps that the documentary opens with testimonies from some pretty big names in hair metal to the quality and artistry of Anvil. Guys from Slayer, Motely Crue, and even Twisted Sister talk about being influenced by this little band called Anvil, and marvel that they never got any bigger. Anvil had respect and chops at one point in time; they just seem unaware that the musical landscape–even the heavy metal landscape–has changed since then. One wants to slip them a Korn or Tool album, just as an act of mercy.
The documentary follows them through all their exercises in futility, from a terrible European tour (where most of the concerts are attended by audiences of dozens) to the development of their thirteenth album, “the best one ever.” Lips is zealous and manic; he reminds of me of the weird old guys who always hang around poetry slams and open mics. He’s funny for a while, but then you kind of want him to go away or shut up. His sidekick Reiner is more down to earth, but that makes you wonder all the more why the guy is still pursuing fame in a hair metal band.
You would think, after thirty years of futility, the guys would learn lessons about doing what you love and not caring who cares. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians touring this country and making great music, and a tiny few of them ever get famous. Most make just enough to live on. They do it because they love it, and gave up on fame and fortune years ago. Not Anvil. They clearly love what they’re doing, but they also love, and refuse to give up, their dream of being rock stars, of playing in front of thousands, of the groupies and the orgies and the VH1 specials. It’s kind of sad. It’s also kind of funny.