When the documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil was first released in 2008 it became a critical darling. The movie went on to win numerous awards and as of today has a whopping 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also revived Anvil‘s career. The band was around at the onset of metal’s second decade and kept at their craft despite every hardship conceivable. The movie’s feel-good story helped fans fall in love with Anvil again and they kept at it.
Almost inconceivably, the documentary is getting a second life in the post-pandemic era. What started as a one-time screening for a few of the director’s family members turned into ten screenings last summer and then a full theatrical run beginning next week on September 27. Both director and band say the film’s focus on dreams and hope and enduring hardship resonate more than ever after the worst days of Covid. Director (and onetime Anvil roadie) Sacha Gervasi and Anvil mainstays Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner talked to us about the second life of Anvil! The Story Of Anvil.
How did this film end up getting released again?
SACHA GERVASI (DIRECTOR): It started with my godson who is 17. His mother produced the movie. The last time we were having dinner he said he wanted to see the film because he was four when it came out. So I invited him to my house to watch the movie and he brought some friends from high school. I showed them the movie not knowing what would happen and they went crazy. They explained to me that they were coming out of two years of lockdown and on Zoom and stuck at home. And this was a story of inspiration and hope and not giving up when the situation is awful. That led to another screening and we ended up doing ten screenings last summer. Over those ten screenings, two distributors heard about the film and that kids were digging it and we got two offers to re-release it. The people at (distributor) Utopia said the film just resonated and is still so powerful and would get to people.
This movie gave Anvil their career back. Do you find it remarkable that this has an opportunity to kick things into overdrive again 13 years later?
STEVE “LIPS” KUDLOW: It’s going to help Anvil reach new kids and not just the people that remembered us from the 80s. Now we’re going to get new fans who discovered us in 2022. If you come to our show you’ll see everything from families to kids who were introduced to us through the movie. It’s almost like a Disney thing. I know it sounds odd but it’s the truth.
What about the film continues to reach people? Resilience? Hope? Both?
GERVASI: All of those things. It’s about recognizing struggle, whether that is to be an A student or an athlete or a musician or artist. It goes back to what my godson said. We’ve been cooped up for two years and it’s been a nightmare. So this is a story about hope and inspiration. Without hope, you go into a depressive hole.
When you were out there on the road and this was being filmed and there were difficult moments did you ever think it was a bad idea to film everything? Or did you have faith in the process?
ROBB REINER: Not at all. We trusted Sacha from the beginning because he is our friend. His intention was to do the band good and not fuck us around. He delivered what he said he would.
GERVASI: This is a movie about what happens to 99 percent of bands. They are touring clubs and sometimes there aren’t people there. Pursuing that dream is really challenging for some people and the fact that they were willing to share that was incredible. I’d been their roadie and knew them and told them people are going to have to laugh at you and they had to be open to that. But they knew I wasn’t going to edit it and make them look bad. They always knew I would listen to them. I needed their trust and openness and honesty. Because that to me was the story. Behind The Music was always the same story and so fucking boring. This was a different kind of rock story.
We talked to the directors of the Dio documentary and they said one of the tough things about making a film about rock is fighting the Behind The Music template.
KUDLOW: The biggest and most impressive difference with this film is that most movies are about hyping up bands and camouflaging all the truth like no one is there. That is the opposite of what we did. Instead of bullshitting, we decided to tell and show people how nasty it can be, even from the perspective of a band with a brand name.
So many people in the world of metal have lived that experience.
KUDLOW: We had a producer that we were talking to and he said something about all the money rock stars “are” making. All that money coming in goes out to make them all look big.
Since the movie came out for the first time the music business has radically changed. There is Bandcamp and VIP passes and special merch and no one makes money on albums. How have you navigated these changes at this point in your career?
KUDLOW: I did the same thing my Dad did – sell garments (laughs). I sell garments too. My music is my advertisement to sell garments. That’s what I’ve been doing since the movie came out. The fees you get correspond to the people you draw. That will cover expenses, including roadies and maybe a bass player or tee shirt guy and the hotel rooms and the gas. But the merchandise is your gravy. Some of it is selling CDs but it’s a very small percentage of your sales. Music is now virtually free.
When the film came out the last time you could have done a victory lap and ended on a good note. Instead, it seemed to light a creative spark.
KUDLOW: The movie tends to make people believe we weren’t successful. But the real truth is how many bands have record contracts for 30 years? Most bands go for 20 years and don’t record anything. We just failed at making millions of dollars. But we persevered through the 90s and were popular enough for a record company to actually give us money. We’ve had record company backing for 45 years – that is not unsuccessful.
GERVASI: The film is like a Rorschach test. What do you believe is success? What do you believe is failure? To persevere is really hard.
KUDLOW: The message is it doesn’t matter if you win or lose if you are playing the game. You are doing what you love. More people should do what they love because when you love it you are better at it than anyone in the world.
People wrongly conflate music and success like it’s a corporate career. Joy Division played clubs for like 15 people and Peter Hook is touring playing those songs four decades later.
GERVASI: There’s an interesting parallel. Control (the Ian Curtis biopic) came out at the same time (as the Anvil documentary). The producer went in last week and because of the Anvil model, they are discussing Control coming back for a whole new audience. Utopia is acting like our movie has never been released and that’s been the best part.
What words of advice would you give any young bands out there sleeping in vans?
KUDLOW: The most important thing is individuality and originality. Do something that no one does but you. If you don’t have that you are going to have a tough time. Not only is my music slightly different than other bands but aside from that, there are stage antics. I play guitar with a vibrator. No one else does that. I found things no one else did and went for them. It’s all about creating an identity.
REINER: Hang on to the essence of having fun. If you aren’t having fun you are miserable. Hold on to the fun of the activity of rock and roll.