Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Anvil! The Story of Anvil Movie Poster Image
Memorable music doc on Canadian metal band; lots of cursing.
  • NR
  • 2008
  • 77 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, through thick and thin. The importance of maintaining a positive attitude while in the midst of challenge and misfortune. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

While not positive role models in the traditional sense, Lips and Robb from Anvil show incredible tenacity and determination as they continue to pursue their dream of making it in the music business, even as they get into late middle-age and some of their closest relatives express doubts. 

Violence

A near-fight breaks out between a member of Anvil and the manager of a music club. Members of Anvil get into heated arguments on the verge of coming to blows. 

Sex

Guitarist shown in concert applying a vibrator to the strings of his guitar. Amongst friends, the lead vocalist/guitarist, who is Jewish, sings an old Jewish song about sex. Sexual innuendo in the lyrics of some of the Anvil songs, quoted by a talk show host during an episode centered on the controversies that surrounded heavy metal in the 1980s. 

Language

Frequent use of "f--k." Frequent use of "s--t" and variations on that word. "Bollocks." "Hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol and beer drinking throughout, primarily from the fans at Anvil concerts. Marijuana smoking. Cigarette smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a 2008 documentary on a seminal Canadian thrash metal band still struggling to find success two decades after their '80s heyday. The movie shows the struggles of a band who is in it for the long haul; this should be required viewing for young musicians with dreams of making it in the music industry, as it shows the inherent joys as well as the constant struggles of musicians working a tour circuit that makes little money and how that causes strain in friendships and families. While some will see this as a real-life Spinal Tap -- of quixotic dreamers aging into self-parody -- others will see dogged determination, perseverance, and the loneliness of the long-distance rock and roller engaged in what makes him happiest in this world: entertaining others with his music. There is frequent profanity, including regular use of "f--k." The lead guitarist is shown using a vibrator on the strings of his guitar. Songs reference evergreen heavy metal topics such as casual sex, Satan, and medieval torture. There are near-fights between members of the band and club owners, and amongst members of the band. Beer and alcohol drinking, especially in concert settings, as well as some marijuana and cigarette smoking. Overall, this documentary shows the bond between two life-long friends who persevere in their pursuit of a success that has eluded them while still finding a joy in playing music that many people lose as they get older. 

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What's the story?

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL begins in 1982, when a Canadian heavy metal band called Anvil released their debut album, "Metal on Metal." They appeared to be on the verge of success, growing a devoted worldwide following and inspiring musicians in bands such as Guns n' Roses, Metallica, and Anthrax. But now, 25 years later, as many of their contemporaries went on to attain incredible success, Anvil plays the bar circuit in the Ontario hinterlands. They work day jobs because their music does not pay the bills. And as they enter their 50s, founding members Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner do their best to maintain hope and optimism despite disastrous tours, music industry indifference, and the opinions of some in their families that it just might be time to pack it in, move past teenage dreams, and face up to the realities of adulthood. But when the producer of their first album expresses the desire to work with them once again after receiving their demo in the mail and liking what he heard, hope springs anew, and Lips and Robb must find a way to get the money together to fly to England where the producer lives, record what they believe to be their best music to date, and find the ears of the heavy metal-listening public-at-large. 

Is it any good?

This movie is a testament to the kind of quixotic perseverance required to maintain a lengthy career playing in rock and roll. There are many touring musicians out there who will say that the classic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap is, for all its comedy, the most too-real depiction of the absurdities of life on the road. Anvil! The Story of Anvil comes close, and the connections between the two films, in the comedy of errors, in the unstoppable perseverance, in the arguments between lifelong friends and founding Anvil members Lips and Robb, appear to be a deliberate move on the part of the filmmakers, but the final takeaway is an awe-inspiring sense of just how hard these guys continue to work and sacrifice to pursue their passion.

Neither fawning nor contemptuous, the documentary presents the viewer with the eternal quandary of anyone committed to their lifelong dream in endeavors seen by most as a "young person's game": to put away the proverbial zebra-striped spandex pants for good and accept the demands and responsibilities of adulthood at the cost of personal happiness, or continue to pursue what could be an eternally elusive dream and descend into self-parody? The exploration of this theme makes this movie worthwhile even to those who couldn't care less about heavy metal. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about music documentaries. How is Anvil! The Story of Anvil similar to and different from other music documentaries?

  • How does this movie show the challenges many working musicians face in both their professional and personal lives?

  • At the beginning of the documentary, and interspersed throughout the rest, there are testimonials from heavy metal musicians who found the success that has always eluded Anvil. How do these testimonials add context and show how influential they were to some? 

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