It is widely regarded in the annals of movie lore that when legendary rock’n’roll guitarist Eddie Van Halen first saw This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s mother of all rock mockumentaries, he didn’t get it. Having gotten lost backstage himself numerous times and been witness to band meeting’s chaired by groupies, he wondered in all honesty just what the joke was. As Nigel Tufnel famously espoused: “It’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” Van Halen, having lived inside the insular bubble that is professional musicianship, knew that it was an even finer line between truth and fiction and that truth often times really is stranger.

First time director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil’s roadie for a time in the eighties) chronicles the legendary Canadian mettlers, led by long time best friends Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, during an ill-fated European tour in preparation for their thirteenth studio album. Given some decidedly Tap-ish antics (playing guitar with a dildo), a disastrous tour managed by a fan, and irony out the wazoo (the drummer’s name really is Robb Reiner – two b’s), comparisons to Tap’s calculated piss taking were inevitable. But having witnessed the band’s hilarious, heart-wrenching and utterly mesmorising tale of never-say-die persistence, we have to declare that dismissing these guys as merely over-the-hill crazies does them and their indomitable spirit a great disservice.

For anyone not in the know, Anvil was a pioneering heavy metal outfit straight out of Canada. Their steadfastly heavy beats and crunching guitar riffs served as a model for the stadium packers that followed in their wake. Don’t take our word for it though; the likes of Slayer, Anthrax, and Lars Ulrich are only too eager to recount the excited sense of discovery they felt the first time they heard the band’s breakout album Metal On Metal. Former Metal Hammer journalists, Lemmy from Motorhead, they’re all only to happy to testify to the band’s considerable musical ability and the influence they had on up and coming acts. Yet despite once sharing the stage with the likes of Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi, while those bands soared, Anvil slowly faded away into obscurity.

But they never stopped and now well into their fifties, they continue to thrash it out night after grueling night, for tiny crowds and little or no pay, still chasing the dream and hoping for that ever elusive break. So when lifelong Italian fan turned booking agent and inept manager, Tiziana, offers to shepherd them around the dingy (and sadly mostly empty) nightclubs of Eastern Europe, eternal optimist “Lips”, long suffering Robb and the rest of the band jump at the chance.

But this is far from the rock ’n’ roll dream they had when they we’re kids. Now working construction and driving trucks, the latest in a string of rhythm guitar players has a power of sale in effect on his home, and the bassist lives in a garage. This is the dark side of music and talking to Reiner’s high-flying siblings, Lip’s wife who works to pay the bills while the band tour, the question that everyone is careful to avoid is how much sacrifice is too much? Even if you know deep down in your heart that it’s just never going to happen, how do you call time on a dream you’ve toiled in service to for thirty years? One thing’s for sure, Lips doesn’t have the answer.

Instantly affable, with his heart on his sleeve and a wide-eyed naivety about him despite his advancing years, Lips is the band’s heart and soul. First and foremost a showman, whether it be cutting it on stage or arguing with a club manager that he won’t accept being paid in goulash, Lips always gives his all for the few fans he’s so grateful to have in attendance. But despite wielding optimism so blind it’s practically being led around by a labrador, Lips is far from delusional. He’s simply a man who makes a very deep, very concerted effort to always see the upside to absolutely any situation and when he speaks of how grateful he is to Tiziana for arranging the tour (which culminated in Anvil playing a 10,000 capacity arena to an audience of 174), you never suspect that he is being anything less than completely genuine.

Occasionally some of it is simply so Tap you can barely believe they’re being serious, most notably Reiner’s brief exhibition of his canvas work – a giant anvil, an empty drumkit, an unflushed turd – during which Nigel Tufnel explaining to Marty DiBergi that his amps go to 11 echos through your mind. Lips and Robb (Lips in particular) are just so downright likable and earnest that you can’t help but will them along. Their insane level of sacrifice and dedication is nothing short of awe inspiring. Come the resurgent finale Lips and his never quit mantra will absolutely have made a bona fide believer out of you, we guarantee it.

Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Runtime: 90 Minutes

Distributor: VH1

Rating: NR

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