It is common knowledge that actual rock stars do not find Spinal Tap particularly funny. This is not because they are too stoned to understand the jokes; it is because they understand them all to well. I understood this, but could never understand how they could possibly experience such chaos.
Yet that maxim kept coming back watching Anvil! The Story of Anvil. This is, in many ways, a tragedy that is all too common in that industry. New talents are routinely put in the spotlight, only to have it dim far before their feeling of ecstasy is over. The band Anvil manage to hold onto that feeling for thirty years, even though they were out of the public conscious and had no relevancy or talent left after maybe a year. Yes, I said it and I will say it again-Anvil is not a particularly good band. Their style has been refined by many others. But that is not the point of the documentary. The point is the dreams of stardom and how far some people will go.
The story presented is pretty simple. A heavy metal band from the early 1980s (which toured, we are informed, with Whitesnake and Bon Jovi) is struggling to remain noticed. They are booked on a European tour which goes disastrously wrong. They miss trains, their gigs are attended by 200 people at most, and they go unpaid. They try and keep their spirits up, but doing so is a difficult prospect, and blows are exchanged and tears are shed. The band returns home to their lives (one member works at a catering service) before they send out a demo tape to try and make an album. This also goes poorly-they find a producer, but also find difficulty in raising the money. They do, and decide to try to go play another show to promote the album. It is too a crowd of 5,000 in Japan and things have never looked brighter for the band.
Remember when I stated that Anvil is not a particularly good band? The documentary doesn’t hide from this-barely any performance footage of the band is shown. When it is, the focus is usually on the reactions of bystanders, who show looks of absolute confusion and distress. Such a bizarre fascination with the deficient should kill the film, but it doesn’t. This actually helps the film in many ways. If the band was good, the focus might turn on us and how we cannot recognize brilliance.
What this actually does is allow us to the band members as human beings. They are the true creations of our desires at age 15. They feel they can conquer the world with their music. Never does the band show an ego-they often go and talk to their fans off stage. The compassion and emotion they show to each other is some of the most touching on celluloid. One speech that the lead singer gives during the recording of their album (particularly, after a heated argument with the drummer) is so touching that many Oscar winning actors and actresses would be hard pressed to replicate it. And yes, they do have Spinal Tap moments. One member states that he can summarize their problems in “three words-We have very poor management.” The wisdom they display is somewhere between Appalachian folk and High School stoner-“Family’s important shit, man.”
I know I sound like I am making fun of them. That is not my intention-I am actually quite pleased anyone would be allowed to have themselves portrayed in that manner. They are not creatures of ego, they are human beings that could live down any street in suburbia. We can empathize with their plight. It may as well be our own.
Too bad that the film insists upon building up too much drama. It would have been more successful just to focus on the European Tour or the making of the album rather than trying to squeeze both together. Both feel like they are not given enough attention to really make a difference. Besides, we have gained empathy from one episode-both has the aura of beating the dead horse. Or the broken drumstick. But whatever, the characters carry on regardless and the conclusion is satisfying enough.
So, congratulations, Lips and Robb. Your film has made me hope that you succeed in finding whatever you are looking for. And hopefully, the world will be far more ready to embrace you.