Monday, April 13, 2009

Movies: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

This is a movie rather like The Wrestler, only more depressing, since it’s a documentary about actual people. Anvil is a metal band to whom many of the greats—Metallica, Slayer, etc.—readily admit they owe a debt. And yet, success has not come their way. This is not for lack of effort; Anvil has managed to stay together (at least, it’s lead man and drummer have) from childhood friendship up to their fifties. They have released more than ten albums, and play regular gigs for die-hard fans in their Canadian town. But they all keep day jobs (front man "Lips" delivers lunches from a warehouse to public schools) because fame and fortune both have shunned them.

The film follows the band on what hopes to be a promising European tour, but which is instead a string of fiascoes including missed trains, unpaid gigs, and audiences of less than 25 people at dive bars. The constant reality of failure drives a wedge between the strangely faithful front man (who has the best attitude I’ve ever seen in a metal head—constantly optimistic and willing to grab for the brass ring, and then willing to discuss his emotions when it doesn’t work out) and the more quiet, pragmatic drummer, who seems to enjoy hanging out in his basement painting just as much as he enjoys playing with the band. One refuses to give up the dream; the other already has, and is just playing along to keep his friend happy.

The disastrous tour is only the beginning of the end; there’s also a trip to Transylvania for a rock festival in a stadium that seats thousands (perhaps a hundred attend). The front man is certain that their constant commercial failures can be attributed to the low production values of their albums and the band’s constant mismanagement, so he gets a loan from his sister to enable the band to cut a new record with the most famous and capable metal producer alive, who seems to be doing the project for nothing but good karma. They shop the record around to all the major labels, but no one will take it. From what we hear, it’s obvious why; Anvil’s sound hasn’t evolved at all, but metal, which has been around for more than twenty-five years now, has. The tragic thing is that the band does not realize this, and no one tells them, either.

Apparently, the release of the film has given them quite a bit of good publicity, and their new album is therefore starting to sell (likely more as hipster kitsch than as serious metal). This is the kind of scenario that would lead a self-aware person into a negative spiral of self-loathing and depression, but for the completely unconscious members of Anvil, it’s probably quite a boon.

No comments: