Anvil were a band back in the 80’s big enough to play alongside Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, and other back-comb friendly rock acts. They’re now 50-something and still making music, albeit without making money. At first glance this documentary seems to echo the spectacular mockumentary Spinal Tap, almost as if Christopher Guest and co had time travelled forwards, seen this doc, then gone back to parody it first.
As a band, Anvil match Tap for crazy hilarity, sometimes trumping it. Where the Tap used a violin to play the guitar, Anvil used a dildo, and the song “Thumb Hang”, based on a torture method from the Spanish inquisition that they’d read about in school, could easily be a Tap creation. When Anvil attempt a reunion tour, the resulting mishaps (missed trains, insane venues, getting lost) are comedy gold.
But Anvil isn’t just a real life Tap. Though it’s undeniably funny, lead singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner melt humanity into the mix. Their strive to continue to do what makes them happy, debt and failure be damned, is both uplifting and heart wrenching at the same time. You chuckle at the half empty bar they’re having to play in, but your heart is also breaking on their behalf. Eccentric, weird, nutters – whatever you want to label them at first – once their quest is stripped to the nub it resonates with all, and suddenly these are just guys wanting to make their lives mean something.
Director Sacha Gervasi crafts this documentary perfectly, throwing out the belly laughs early, pulling you into the heart of the story, then building you up to the grand finale. Though at times some aspects are so bizarre you just have to question their authenticity (drummer’s painting of a poo in a toilet – “my wife won’t let me show it in the living room”) and there must be an element of manipulation to create a story with such a well formed arc. But still, Anvil: The Story of Anvil is the funniest, most touching piece seen so far this year, with reality and a bottom-pleasing running time firmly on its side. It rocks in with a CF2, and will sit neatly next to the Tap on anyone’s DVD collection, although their proximity may cause a rift in reality that destroys us all. Small price to pay.