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Review: Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)

Directed by: Sacha Gervasi

Premise: A documentary film about the rock band Anvil, which had minor success in the early 1980s and had an important place establishing the sound of heavy metal that was later taken to great success with bands like Metallica and Slayer. Thirty years later, the band is still performing and trying to make it and the film follows the musicians as they tour across Europe and record their latest album, “This is Thirteen.” 

What Works: Anvil is a distinct music documentary. So many of these films end up following major bands and come across as vanity pieces, showing how rich and how popular the band members are, but without showing anything really to do with process of making music. But Anvil’s story is different; this is a band that came very close to mainstream success and influenced bands that did, but never quite got there themselves. And yet the band members continue to produce new music and nurse the hope of success. The film keeps its focus on the blood, sweat, and tears of making music and the stress and financial precariousness of being an independent musician. There is more than ego at stake here; the well being of band member’s families is on the line and that risk gives the film so much more weight than other music documentaries. The film also exposes life on the road as most musicians experience it; the film exposes touring as a difficult, grueling experience that takes tolls on the band physically and financially. Aside from the portrayal of the band, Anvil is a documentary that gives history to heavy metal, a genre of music that is not often given much due, but is major cultural force. This film helps to flesh out some of the history of music and unveil a segment of our musical heritage that is often dismissed.

What Doesn’t: Anvil does go through a few familiar narrative steps of a music story, with the band mates at each others throats and nearly breaking up over the stress of the production. The documentary is capturing what happened but this part of the film plays a bit more like a typical entertainment bio-pic.

DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and an interview with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Bottom Line: Anvil: The Story of Anvil is an important music documentary. The film gives voice to a band that deserves to be heard and counted within the history of rock music and it captures a portrayal of the commercial music scene at a critical point in its history.

Episode: #272 (January 10, 2010)