“I never liked Slayer.”
I’m standing in a bar drinking a beer with Canadian metal band Anvil’s singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow, and am completely taken aback by the statement. This, from a man whose band had influenced some of the greatest in metal and rock- including Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Anthrax, and even Slayer- and been in one of the first thrash bands to ever exist?
“It just always sounded like noise to me!” Lips laughs. “But then I met the singer/bass player (Tom Araya) and realized what a great person he is, and I went back to the music and I have a new appreciation for it. It’s hard to not like the music once you know the person. And I hope the same thing happens when people watch this movie.”
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is the documentary he’s talking about and he’s right- it’s impossible to not appreciate their music after watching it. It tells the story of the two founding Anvil musicians (Lips and drummer Robb Reiner- not a joke!) who still haven’t ceased to dream about becoming rock stars, even though they’re now in their 50s. It’s simply one of the best docs I’ve seen in years, and is much more sappy than you might expect from the subject matter. It’s alternately heartbreaking and uplifting to watch these old men still fight for something most people would have given up on years ago. It’s the kind of film that will make you walk out of the theater and want to do something with your life.
And now I was drinking beers with them.
It all started last week when Devin shot me an email. He had heard of a meet n’ drink with the band and was urging me to go since, me being such a metalhead and all, it was right up my alley. He was right. I managed to grab a screener of the film and watched it during the day before heading out, falling completely in love with the story and the people behind it.
The location for the event was Rudy’s, an infamous dive bar (one of only a couple left in NYC!) that still serves insanely cheap beers and free hot dogs. It’s a popular spot, dark and loud and hot from the ton of people that are always crowded in there. I headed inside and grabbed a beer from the bar, oblivious to the fact that the group had free pitchers flowing right behind me. Ah well. I’d do plenty of damage to them in the next couple of hours.
I sipped my beer and looked around the bar, trying to identify who the other journalists were. In the corner a large group of college kids were screaming and dancing together. Nope, not them. The rest of the bar was filled with the usual rock and metal patrons that usually fill a dive bar of this type, with just the right amount of grizzled old regulars. It was the perfect place to meet Anvil… and I appreciated that for once I didn’t have to dress up a bit for an event.
I fit in pretty well in a dive bar- it’s my preferred drinking establishment. Someone looking at me with my big goatee (wearing a hoodie and leather jacket, no less) probably wouldn’t have found me out of place there. But it was pretty obvious who most of the journalists were. A few looked a bit uncomfortable at the massive crowd of people and beer flying all over the place and dropped out early. I walked up to a few obvious journalists and had a great time chatting them up, touching on subjects from Anvil to Watchmen to Zyzzyx Road (you’re famous for that, Dev!)
And then the band came in.
There’s something so bizarre about having watched a documentary that throws you so deeply into someone’s life and then be standing around drinking a beer with them just a couple hours later. Lips and Robb were easy to pick out and everyone soon tried to talk with them. I finished my beer, grabbed another and sidled over to Lips, who was engaged in a pretty lively conversation with some of the other folks.
Talking with Lips made me so happy, and that’s for one big reason- he’s exactly the person you see in the film. This is a man with no bullshit to him- he’s honest, open and frank about everything. He’s also a bit taken aback by what the film’s already doing for his career, and for him as a person. He’s even gotten emails from people saying how the film had changed their lives! It’s all a lot for one guy to take, and he’s just stunned at how fast everything’s finally coming together.
But isn’t this something similar to how he bares his soul playing shows? Not at all, he said. It’s completely different to be entertaining a crowd, and another to have your life put out there on the screen for millions to see. It’s bizarre to him that his mother and sister are movie stars.
After bullshitting with him for a while director Sacha Gervasi came in and immediately went over to Lips, and it was immediately obvious how much affection they have for each other. Sacha started talking about how he toured with them when he was just a teenager back in the 80s, traveling all over the world with this metal band and getting into all kinds of crazy shenanigans. It wasn’t until 20 years later that he contacted them again to see what they were up to and was a little surprised when he found out that they’d released another dozen albums in the time. And this from one of their biggest fans!
As he talked to them about their plans for the future and realizing that they hadn’t given up on the dream of becoming rockstars yet, Sacha immediately realized- there’s a film to be found here.
It’s a great thing he did. I don’t think the film would have worked with anyone else making it. Part of the reason it’s so goddamn compelling is because it seems that nothing is off the record, that everything important was put on film. It turns out that this was indeed the case, as he was allowed unrestricted access to their lives and toured with them once again in Europe. Of everything shown in the film- fights and arguments and incredibly personal moments- there was only one thing that they didn’t want to show up on film… that actually did.
During one of the more tense moments in the film (a fight between Lips and Robb during the recording of their new album) Sacha went against the bandmates’ wishes and kept shooting, hiding the camera from view so they didn’t even know what he was doing. It’s a fantastic moment, one that shows these guys being completely brutal with each other, but in that way that only best friends or brothers can do. You know the type of fight when you scream it out with someone you love? This is one of those, one of the worst kinds of fight, because even though you know it’ll all be forgotten in the morning it hurts more than anything because you’re doing it with someone who knows you better than anyone. The scene does a fantastic job of showing how close these guys are and how much love they have for each other. Lips admitted that it works great in the film and that it was a good thing that Sacha didn’t listen to him.
I could have talked with the guys for hours, but of course they had a lot of people to talk to. I tried talking to Robb a bit and told him about how much I appreciated the movie, and he was friendly and thanked me but seemed a bit freaked out about the whole thing. I don’t blame them- these are just normal guys, and they were thrown into a crowd of dozens of journalists who were pumping them for info. The guys spent most of the end of the night outside smoking (and trying to sell cds!) while I drank beer after beer with some awesome journalists and PR folks.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a movie that deserves to be big. It’s the kind of movie that anyone can get into, that will resonate with anyone who sees it. There isn’t a person alive that hasn’t dreamed of becoming something better, of becoming famous and well-known and getting recognition for your talent and hard work. Few people have the guts to keep pursuing their dream the way these guys have. It’s a classic underdog story but also one of the best documentaries you’ll see in years. Not a fan of the music? Don’t let it discourage you from seeing this. I told Lips that it was amusing that while it’s about a metal band it’s not a very metal movie. Even my wife (who’s not exactly a big fan of the music) fell in love with the film and was rooting for them to break big at the end.
As Lips himself put it- it doesn’t even matter what they do. “I could be a guy building pyramids in Egypt, man!” he told me, half-jokingly. “It doesn’t matter what material I’m using.”
“Just that you didn’t ever stop from building the best pyramid you possibly could?”, I offered.
Lips smiled. “Exactly.”
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is out right now in the UK. It opens in NY and LA on April 10th, and will roll out to all the major markets in the weeks after. Check AnvilMovie.com for more info.