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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (review)

I’m still not 100 percent convinced that this wonderfully bittersweet documentary isn’t entirely a put-on. I mean, I know that it isn’t… but I want it noted for the record that when we do eventually hear that a time machine and mind control and other superadvanced CIA technology was involved in pulling one over on all of us, I totally called it. Anvil was — or so we’re told by first-time filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, and that’s got to be a made-up name, right? — a fully awesome 1980s Canadian heavy metal troupe that somehow failed to make it as big as their contemporaries such as Metallica and Guns & Roses, and today the washed-up yet thoroughly enchanting band members continue to stick together and rock on and hold out hope for their big-in-Japan moment. If the likes of Lars Ulrich and Slash enthusiastically vouching for them wasn’t suspicious enough, one of the guys in Anvil is called “Robb Reiner” — you know, like the director of This Is Spinal Tap — and another one, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, used to play his lead guitar onstage with a dildo. (When we learn that their drummer choked to death on one of Lips’s sex toys, we’ll know we’ve been had.) There’s a disastrous would-be comeback tour, complete with an unlikely chick manager. There’s strife within the band. There’s a puppet-show-Spinal Tap moment. There is, dear god, a date in Tokyo. Look, this has gotta be fake because its entire premise — that people who try to live the creative life always get kicked in the nuts for it, metaphorically speaking — is too depressing to be borne. So I maintain that it’s all a fictional exercise in encouraging kids to stay in school and become accountants, lest they get the idea that rock ’n’ roll is glamorous, lucrative, or anything other than a self-perpetuating slave drive for anyone truly dedicated to it even when the money doesn’t roll in.

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