This is The Greatest Love Story I’ve seen on film in a long time.
For those of you in the UK who remember Simon Bates’ Our Tune, you could play this soundtrack to enhance the mood I’m going for! For the other 98.5% of you, excuse my digression: this is what I’m on about.
It’s the 1973 in Toronto. Teenager Steve Kudlow (his friends call him ‘Lips’) is a fan of Heavy Metal and a budding guitarist & singer. He walks past a house and hears someone giving a drumkit a pretty serious working over. He is drawn to the sound, and meets Robb, another Metal fan. They form a band together: they call themselves Anvil, and for a while in the 1980s they get big, really big. They tour the world with Bon Jovi, Scorpions and Slayer. They are living the dream.
Except that while those other bands sold gazillions of records, Anvil went home to Toronto. Twenty-five years later Steve delivers meals for a schools catering supplies company, Robb works in construction, and Anvil play gigs in their local bar to a handful of fans. But Steve and Robb never gave up on their dream, their love for metal, and their love for each other.
Anvil! the Story of Anvil is moving, funny, inspiring and often almost heartbreaking. It documents around a year in the life of the band in 2007. During the film they embark on a European Tour promoted by a manager who is more of a fan than actually having any experience or skills in actually managing a tour; they attend festivals and gigs where they play the graveyard slots in front of a handful of people, and they try to recreate past glories by recording a new album in England, with Lips remortgaging his family home to raise the funds.
At almost every turn I despaired of their decision-making, but almost simultaneously marvelled at their persistence and optimism. I wanted to sit them down and give them a stern talking-to, a reality check, but in fact they’re extraordinarily self-aware. Instead I found myself smiling, admiring their positivity despite all the pitfalls and disappointments.
Despite being in his 50s, Lips dresses, talks and walks like a teenager, racing up to his idols from decades before at obscure European Metal festivals, bounding into meetings with A&R men with barely even the beginnings of a thought-through pitch. His presentations don’t go very far beyond ‘please listen to this. We think it rocks. We hope you do too.’ He borrows money from his family to record a new album (the band’s 13th) in England at vast expense without any idea of whether it will sell.
At times the parallels with Spinal Tap seem almost deliberate: the drummer really is called Robb Reiner and there really is an amp that turns up to 11! But the searing honesty and openness from everyone concerned makes this a tremendously intimate portrait of some wonderful characters.
The music is almost incidental; it certainly shouldn’t discourage anyone from watching this brilliant film. There’s more humanity in the Robb & Lips’ blazing rows and heartfelt reconciliations than in any Hollywood rom-com.