crowd roars, finally: Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
The Story of Anvil
by Sacha Gervasi
So there was this band in the early ’80s, from Toronto, called
Anvil. You might have heard of them if you were seriously
into heavy metal; they played some big Japanese music festivals
and put out the influential Metal on Metal album in
1982. But these “demigods of Canadian metal” never achieved
mainstream success, and bands they influenced passed them
by. Too bad, because they were really something—onstage, the
singer, Lips, wore bondage gear and played guitar with a vibrator.
That still sounds insane. So when fame didn’t come,
did Lips and the boys pack in the sex toys and call it quits?
Way beyond just a documentary about the making of the band’s
latest (13th!) album, Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story
of Anvil is a flat-out home run, from the title right
on down. Anvil is the story of two lifelong friends
and the shared dreams they refuse to let go. It’s an ode to
inspiration, to the human spirit, and to the spirit of rock
& roll. An appreciation for metal certainly may enhance
enjoyment, but it’s not necessary.
Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner (the drummer) are the
heart of Anvil—other band members have come and gone, but
these two guys have been playing together since they were
in high school. They’re turning 50, balancing families and
menial day jobs, and still playing in the band at night and
whenever they can, their passion for the music undiminished
by diminishing returns commercially.
The film picks up as Lips is finalizing booking plans with
a European “promoter” for the band’s biggest tour in a dozen
years. It starts well enough but unravels quickly; the band
miss trains, play for tiny audiences and battle shady clubowners.
They want to make money with their music, but also they want
respect for what they’ve done over their 30-year career; this
tour is little help in either of those areas. But the fever
never dies, as Lips soon gets the idea to approach the producer
of Metal on Metal to work with the band on a new release.
The director conducts his film with candor and compassion.
Gervasi, who self-identified as “England’s number one Anvil
fan” while he was a roadie for the band in the ’80s, is a
Hollywood screenwriter and first-time director. His admiration
for his subjects shows in his work. The ups and downs, the
spats, the goofy personality bits, all that stuff is left
in to show that Lips and Robb are down to earth like anybody
else, regular guys with a big dream.
The film is spiritually closest to American Movie—by
the end you can’t help but root for the band’s success, regardless
of whether you think what they’re doing is any good. Despite
superficial similarities to This Is Spinal Tap (unavoidable
in any modern rock film) there are no “Jazz Odyssey” tandems
or bad military-hangar gigs here, just a few necessary tips
of the hat (i.e., the band actually visits Stonehenge; the
drummer’s name is Robb Reiner for chrissakes). But
Lips and Robb are too self-aware to become caricatures; they’re
Don’t be confused; Anvil is a very funny film, but
in a very human way. In that same way it is sad, and invigorating,
and real—maybe the most real film ever made about rock &
I’ve seen the film twice: first in a practically empty weeknight
screening; later in a sold-out theater as part of “The Anvil
Experience,” with an introduction from Gervasi and short live
performance from the band. The same electricity came through
in both the quiet darkness and the room full of metalheads.
The fact that this little film is now bringing the band the
recognition and success they’ve always hoped for is a minor
miracle. And totally metal.
Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
by Tony Scott
In the 1970s, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was
one of many great movies that shone a light on the cesspool
of filth and lost dreams that New York City had become. A
beleaguered MTA dispatcher (Walter Matthau) rises to the task
of stopping a hostage taker whose rage against the bureaucratic
machine compels him to make huge demands from it. That movie,
like Death Wish, tapped into the hopelessness and fear
that seemed to ooze out of every corner when one visited the
city back then, and it all crystallizes in the back-and-forth
exchanges between the MTA guy and the criminal.
Tony Scott’s remake of this movie captures a sense of New
York as it is in a post-9/11 world. When something goes inexplicably
wrong with the No. 6 train, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington,
in the Matthau role) almost imperceptibly tenses up. We’ve
seen him adroitly deal with various track obstacles and system
backups, so we know he’s good, really good, at what he does,
but when nobody can explain what’s happening up on the enormous
electronic grid that displays all tracks and trains, it’s
clear that terrorism could be a very real threat. The movie
plunges us into the situation without warning: Before the
opening credits are done, we’re in the hostage situation,
in which Ryder (John Travolta) and three accomplices deftly
separate a subway car of 19 people and, bang, make the demand
of $10 million within one hour, or hostages begin to die,
one per minute.
The best aspect of the movie is the back-and-forth between
the foxy Ryder and the resourceful Garber. It’s clear that
Garber is meant to be the everyman hero, the way that, post-9/11,
firefighters have reborn recognition, even sex appeal. Washington
plays the role with a solidity befitting a lifetime bureaucrat,
somebody who’s seen all sorts of crazy and learns to deal
with it. He’s a good worker, but there’s a cloud of official
suspicion hanging over him, a fact that Ryder skillfully employs
to his advantage. For his part, Travolta hams it up, swearing
like a dockworker and grinning like the cat who got the canary.
While Travolta and Washington’s verbal cat-and-mouse is played
well, it ultimately detracts from all those lives hanging
in the balance, none of whom ever get a modicum of even stereotypical
As the tension mounts, and we wonder just how many hostages
will die before New York City can get its act together, there
are fine bits by James Gandolfini as the mayor and a surprisingly
subtle John Turturro as a hostage negotiator. But Scott throws
in too many spectacular car, taxi and motorcycle crashes,
as if he doesn’t think the audience can handle the underground
world in which the major action is taking place.
Scott’s camera blitzes all over the place, so that at times
one feels as if he is on the runaway train that threatens
lives near the end of the movie. Just as the original was
of its time, this one is too, but in a vastly different way.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 presupposes that its audience
needs immediate and constant gratification, and so the loud
crashes and hurtling projectiles eclipse the buildup of suspense
and the sense of time ticking ominously by.