Anvil is ostensibly a movie about a metal band, but like any classic narrative, it’s really about something more elemental–a self struggling against a context. Or in this case, two selves, Lipps (lead guitarist Steve Ludlow) and Robb (drummer Robb Reiner), who in the 1980s influenced and played with David Bowie and various metal luminaries before descending into obscurity. Now, the band’s leads are in their early fifties and trying to make a final stand. As Lipps notes wryly — yet optimistically — early in the film, “It could never get worse than it already is.”
Sound familiar? Of course, nothing about this movie was remotely familiar. Nearly everything was weirdly, becomingly strange. For me, the most outrageous act on camera happens when one of Anvil’s fans, at an Etobicoke night club, chugs a beer through his nostril. But when fifty-something metal rockers weep as they make up after a terrible fight; when a 10,000-person venue attracts under 200 fans (in Romania); when a painful meeting with a record label executive reaches its painful conclusion; you feel for these guys.
I may have even felt it a little extra when we learned, about halfway through, that Lipps and Robb are Jews. Myself, I’m only half Jewish. But I suddenly felt even closer to these misfits tragically torn between two communities–one they were leaving behind and one they sought to join. Heavy metal has to be one of the great goyim scenes. That’s not what Anvil was after–and yet, wasn’t it?
I won’t ruin the ending beyond saying the film was as deeply moving in its conclusion as promised in its middle acts. If you have the chance to see it and are looking for something outside the realm of social justice cinema, check it out. It’s playing this Sunday (sold out, I think) but also next Sunday.
Still, there was something strange about the post-movie Q&A featuring director Sacha Gervasi (screenwriter of the Steven Spielberg flick The Terminal). Ultimately, you’ve got a highly successful Hollywood operator who, yes, was an Anvil roadie in his late teens, but is now using their failure as the narrative matériel of his latest success. Nothing wrong with that of course. But to see it all on stage brought it a little closer to home. At least, I thought so.
Afterward, I went to the Hot Docs opening party in the atrium of the MaRS building–a center for various forms of innovation, or so the government tells me. The risotto and pad thai were tasty, the wine drinkable, the Stella comfortably snobby (while tasting faintly like fancy, well-treated Belgian sewage), the guests charming enough. I should write something nasty or insightful. But that will have to wait.
Tomorrow’s a big day. So off to sleep. See you soon.