One of the most pleasant surprises of 2009, not to mention one of the Best Films of that year, was Sacha Gervasi's hilarious and heartwarming documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL!: a movie that singlehandedly brought together the headbanger and the hearing-aid contingent, and taught both suburban parents how to overcome their fear of studded leather and suburban rockers how to overcome their fear of man crushes. It also brought a long-overdue fourth act to an already colorful career, by giving the band of the gleefully-redundant title the golden ticket to the biggest visibility of their lives, providing songs for video games, performing on such august venues as "THE TONIGHT SHOW," and headlining stadium-size audiences all over the world.
The band is currently in Los Angeles recording tracks for their highly anticipated 14th album, JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE, which is due next spring, and tonight will be appearing in Westwood to conduct a Q&A with director Gervasi in tandem with a one-night revival screening of THE STORY OF ANVIL. The band had graciously agreed to a short interview with me to promote the show; however, recording overruns and other show business vagaries got in the way. As such, I figured I would use this opportunity to refresh your memory on what makes the film worth repeat viewing, either at tonight's screening, via DVD, or the multiple airings that VH1 has given and will likely continue to give.
In case you haven't had access to cable TV or a major entertainment magazine, here is the structure of ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! Director Gervasi, a working screenwriter, recalls his misspent youth as a roadie for the band in the early '80's, amidst the high popularity of heavy metal music in its various guises, and after cold contacting the band's website, he discovers that despite going into their 50's, founding members "Lips" Kudlow and "Geza" Reiner are still together and performing. He joins up with them and films them slogging away at any and every humble gig they can find, while working equally humble day jobs to support their families. Most of what is captured is so comically tragic as to seem fictional, such as a European tour that consists of missed trains and tiny audiences, all arranged by girlfriend of the band that has a tenuous grasp of management and the English language, while other moments depict the clucking tongues of family and friends alike who feel the boys should have hung up their studded jackets a long time ago. Yet through all of the misfortune, Kudlow refuses to give up the dream that he and Reiner had as teenagers, of playing their music and becoming stars.
And it is the decades-old friendship between the two men that becomes the real story of the movie, and what holds the key to its repeat value. The more time we spend with them, learning about their histories and their struggles, the higher our affection increases. They have people in their lives who love them but don't quite get them, but these two guys truly see each other. Their friendship is fraught with arguments and tantrums and tearful making-up sessions, carrying the kind of drama that a dozen Oprah's Book Club selections promise but don't always deliver. And unlike the oft-times self-pitying tone of SOME KIND OF MONSTER, the other acclaimed heavy metal confessional documentary on Metallica, there is never any doubt in the genuine love and hope these two carry for each other: when Lips states that in his dark moments he could have jumped from a cliff, and Geza dryly replies that such an attempt would fail because he'd stop him, it inspires mist and giggles in every viewer. It is the epitome of bromance long before the word existed, or got co-opted by the douchebag contingent.
So many of the movies that we seek for comfort food and multiple viewing rest upon great friendships...Rick, Sam, and Louie...Walter and Hildy...Romy and Michelle... and no matter how well we know the story, we want to watch and rewatch someone have someone else's back, join them in a half-cocked plan that every sensible person thinks can never work, and tell them in deeds what most can never say in words: I love you. And you get that here, with the added bonus of the proceedings being true and the participants being real. And when most "reality" stories are about people who "aren't here to make friends," it's nice to see two guys who want nothing but that. And in the final moments of the film, when our heroes run about Tokyo like teenagers, and later return to their neighborhood at sunset in tandem like boys going home to dinner and bed, you receive the uplift of what it's like to have a swell pal in your corner for life.
Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb "Geza" Reiner, and director Sacha Gervasi will all be appearing at the Landmark Regent theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles, tonight, Thursday November 4th, at 10 p.m. to introduce ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! and take questions afterward. Tickets are still available at all major online ticketing websites and at the door. If you're in the area, put on a fingerless glove and slap some leather with the boys and tell them the Heuck sent you.
A few hours after posting this essay, Lips found a window for us to speak briefly. Here's the transcript of our chat:
First off, congratulations on your enormous post-movie success! Headline tours, TV and movie appearances, video games...In the wake of the popularity of THE STORY OF ANVIL, aside from obivous details like visibility, audience size, budget allowances, what are some of the changes you've noticed both in performing on the road, and especially in your lives at home?
In performing because we've been playing so much, we are in top form. As far as family life not much has changed. The biggest change is that I'm not home very much. The money I have been making is directly from Anvil and not from a day job anymore.
Lips, you made it known that your sister got paid back all the money she loaned for the album recording. What was that like? Was there, say, a ceremonial party when you handed her the check to celebrate the good fortune?
The moment was quite uneventful. I knew before asking for a loan we would have little or no problem paying it back and she knew that as well. It was recouped within the first 2 months of the release. I wouldn't have asked for money unless I knew for sure that I could cover it.
What are some of the most favorite compliments or things you've learned from people you've met in the last year?
Most if not all compliments are about people saying they have been inspired. I've learned that most people haven't got a close friend like I have. What I may have taken for granted people would give anything for.
Dare I ask, but do you still do any of those low-profile day jobs back at home when you're not touring?
NO DAY JOBS!!!
What's the most impractical but fun thing you've been able to do after years of frugal living?
I haven't made enough money yet to become impractical. I'm still fighting for survival and success on every level.
Is it safe to say that you're enjoying what could be called a second childhood with your increased activity?
I'm going through my second childhood for the third time!!! This has been a huge blessing and a perfect answer to a long vicious journey.
There's no doubt lots of people, whose dreams in the arts have been frayed and battered for years, myself included, chose to hold on and keep going after seeing your story. If we should be graced with the same late-bloom success you found, what is your advice for us now, on the other side?
You have to have real authentic desire for success...it's never quite what you think it's going to be. Show me a someone with a million dollars and I'll show you someone with a million worries. Careful for what you wish for...