Monday, April 27, 2009

Anvil: A movie experience

The Skinny

This movie is recommended. My experience was transcendent, though somewhat unique, as you'll see below.

The flick is high on profanity, dubious on music, and enormous on charisma.

The Long

A friend and I went to see Anvil on Saturday night. A key point is that the band was in attendance for the viewing. They would take a Q&A session after our 7pm show and then play after a 9pm viewing.

The Setup

As background, Anvil is a heavy metal band that formed in Toronto in the late 1970s. They scored some modest success circa 1982 with an album called Metal on Metal. They toured with acts that would go on to be much larger. Though respected to this day as trail-blazers, their career tanked.

The buzz about this movie is that it is a mirror image of Spinal Tap. Spinal Tap is the iconic mockumentary where art imitates life. Anvil is a real-life, gritty 30-year existence of a band, whose tragic career trajectory imitates Spinal Tap.

This is especially true since the style (but particularly the lyrics) are similar. What's more: Rob Reiner directed Spinal Tap; a different man, Robb Reiner, plays drums for Anvil. It is no wonder that a lot of people think this is a big hoax.

It isn't.

To be honest, I only vaguely remember Anvil. I probably thought they were pretty cool, on the edge of the new metal sound that was quite electric to my 12 year old ears. Going into the show, though, I have to say that I was very skeptical and joked about asking some rude questions to the band.

The Movie

The film opens with a 50-year-old man delivering food to schools, driving a minivan. He is Lips, the lead-singer of Anvil, and founder of the band, along with his high school chum, Robb R.

For awhile, you laugh at these guys. They are old, weather-beaten, and well, kinda pathetic. However, their enthusiasm and passion is quite contagious: particularly Lips'. As they go on hiatus from their day jobs to embark on a modest club tour of Europe, you wonder, as they do, if things might turn around.

They don't. The tour is a disaster. e.g. They play a show in Poland for a crowd of 50 people, and then have to fight just to get paid. (This is bizarre as the movie theatre -- the Tivoli -- is at about 10% capacity itself, for the movie.) Their sound isn't really much different from their heyday in 1982. As they talk, the emotions run the gamut from devotion to their fans, hope for the future, and utter despair at the current circumstances. All of this is fuelled by a deep bond between Lips and Robb, who love -- and fight -- as brothers. They almost seem like Lennon-and-McCartney Lite: all the yin-yang fraternity, without the calories of musical genius.

This is cognitive dissonance as art.

Somewhere, though, along the way, they win you over. You secretly realize that though you know intellectually that they should pack it in, you are rooting for them. This was doubly strange with them in attendance at the Tivoli. I really felt embarrassed about some of the jokes I had made. These guys are living their dream. Robb is quiet about it, but Lips is pure, unabashed charisma. He is so excited to be onstage that it belies the dark, macabre genre that they've chosen.

The Mind-Blowing Weirdness

I don't feel that I've caught the vibe here but by the end of the movie, some shed tears. I don't know why, and yet I do. This movie is about humanity, brotherhood, and blind devotion in the face of logic and sanity.

At the Tivoli, the credits came on screen and I heard some music start. After a moment, we realized what had happened: the band had secretly jumped into the orchestra pit, donned their instruments and began to play their flagship anthem. They weren't supposed to play yet, but to hell with it -- this is rock 'n' roll!

Half of our crowd stood to clap and rock out. About 6 (six!) dudes with long-hair, tattoos, and dusty metal tee-shirts now rushed to the front to head-bang.

For 3 incredibly weird minutes, we were in the documentary. University City (a section of StL) was united psychically with Krakow, Poland: both were mostly indifferent to Anvil, and yet contained a few freaks to offer support to an aging metal band. There are no words.

It was embarrassing, cool, and foreign, all at the same time.

The Departure

I wore a red t-shirt that sported a Maple Leaf and the slogan "Canada, Eh?".

As we left the theatre, the band manned the merchandise station. I went up to Lips, the singer, and said hello. He burst into a big grin and said "hey I have a shirt like that, only with black lettering". I told him I was from Canada and that I hope that the film takes them "through the roof". He shook my hand and thanked me.

The sincerity in his eyes was unbelievable: it was heart-warming and alarming (in the sense of being worried about him), all at the same time.

Moments later, as we walked down the street, I desperately wanted to return, and give the guy a big hug.

And that feeling is precisely why you should see this movie.


JLC said...

Hey! I know that shirt :-)

Alex Miller said...

Great I must see it.

There are few things more moving than someone leaving it all on the floor to do what they believe regardless of what you think about it.

Jennifer said...

Did you hear the latest: Anvil opening for AC/DC!

I'm NOT kidding.


CaptainCanuck said...

hey Jenn, yes I heard that! big news for the band... I hope their music can hold up, but certainly AC/DC fans should be a decent fit.