This is not Spinal Tap. This is not Spinal Tap… For the first half of Anvil — The Story of Anvil, you have to keep reminding yourself of this fact. Even if you do hear people saying things like: “I can answer that in one word — two words — three words: we haven’t got good management.” And even if, at one point, we see a dial going up to 11:
But what makes it not Spinal Tap really comes out in the second half of the film, as we get to see the part of the story that was untapped, as it were, by Tap — the part where you meet the real human beings behind the would-be rock-stars, and where you realise that the reason they’re still doing what they do after all these years of slog is they’re so passionate about it. Lead singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow especially — he’s the fire to drummer Robb Reiner’s ice, with no preserved moose in between. Throughout Anvil’s ups and down, he manages to bounce back time and again with amazing optimism, even though the dream of rock-stardom has to be shoehorned into holidays from his job as a catering driver, and even if the resultant European tour doesn’t turn out exactly how he’d hoped. “Things went drastically wrong,” he says. “But at least there was a tour for things to go wrong on.”
In a way, I was sort of thankful Anvil hadn’t made it big. If you compare Anvil — The Story of Anvil to the Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster, you see the same in-band personality clashes, only, with Metallica, backed up as they are by megabucks, the egos are turned all the way up to 11. With Anvil, the music may be that loud, but the people at least remain human beings.
So we get to see “Lips” trying to remind rock stars he once toured with who he is (though none of them say “We’re playing the Enormodome”), or thundering through a set with all the enthusiasm of his stadium days even though there’s only one person in the audience, or making up with his lifetime buddy Reiner after a Tap-pish “We’ll never work together again” break-up. (Some of the Spinal Tap-ishness is perhaps contrived, as we get to see Lips and Reiner in a small eatery singing through the first song they wrote together, just as David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel did in This is Spinal Tap — only, instead of it being a skiffle song about riding on a train, it’s about the Spanish Inquisition hanging people up by their thumbs.)
But the ending, where Anvil return to play in Japan for the first time in twenty-five years, is a wonderfully uplifting moment. Both This is Spinal Tap and Anvil — The Story of Anvil might make you laugh, but only one of them brings a tear to the eye.
Metal on metal!