Sacha Gervasi (2009)
Whether you love or hate heavy metal, or are totally indifferent, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be beguiled by this charming and funny documentary of the band that never quite made it, but after over 25 years hasn’t stopped trying. Director Gervasi was one of the most devoted followers of Anvil in his teens, and became their roadie during a Canadian tour, shades of Almost Famous. His affection and admiration for their heroic tenacity has made a film that manages to be both howlingly funny and surprisingly touching.
It’s 20 years since the making of the glorious spoof documentary This is Spinal Tap, and its memory is never far away. There’s even a swift glimpse of an amp which actually bears the number 11. But these guys are for real. Vocalist ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner (not to be confused with Rob Reiner, director of Spinal Tap – a teasing little coincidence thrown up by fate, that) have never quite given up on the final come-back. Still hairy but now age-worn, both of them, Lips has been in therapy and Robb’s in a low pay job loading school meals for Children’s Choice Catering, but their dream keeps resurfacing, and as they prepare to cut their thirteenth album, a European tour is planned, organised by their new manager, guitarist Ivan Hurd’s volatile Italian girlfriend Tiziana. Getting lost down the back streets of Prague and being paid for playing with goulash dinners, missing the train in Sweden because it’s already full of metal fans, their increasingly dispiriting yet comical trail through Europe culminates at the torpid Monsters of Transylvanian rock festival on a muddy sports field with a tombola.
Back in England they begin to record the album, with all the usual gamut of emotion, falling out and rebonding, insult hurling and hugging, so familiar from Spinal Tap, and you have to keep reminding yourself this is all true. But as we meet their loyal, long-suffering families, (Robb’s wife especially deserves some kind of endurance medal), looking at family photographs in the ordinary sitting rooms of Toronto suburbia, hearing how both families have been touched by the holocaust, and see them in the real context of ordinary life, our affection for them imperceptibly grows. Tiziana marries her guitarist, and the two worlds come together when the band plays at the wedding, and permed grey and bald heads of family members attempt some unsure proto-headbanging.
Like The Wrestler, it’s a film which celebrates the right to fail. And Robb’s stoical make-do acceptance of his humdrum job while holding the dream of a more heroic other life brings that film strongly to mind. And after laughing all the way, you’ll be amazed at how emotionally involved you feel at the last putsch, a concert in Japan that looks doomed to failure.
London February 2009