Real-Life Spinal Tap Gets Its Due in 'Anvil!'

You can’t talk about documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil (VH1) and not talk about This Is Spinal Tap. As rookie director Sacha Gervasi’s camera rolls, old-school Canadian metal band Anvil embarks on a European tour booked, and then mismanaged, by a band member’s mysteriously accented blond girlfriend. Despite suffering through what appears to be nothing more than a weeks-long string of missed trains, poorly publicized gigs, and puny crowds, indefatigable singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Ludlow applies some true Nigel Tufnel logic: “At least there was a tour for things to go wrong on.” Ignoring the overwhelming indifference of the contemporary music industry, the band records its 13th album, This Is Thirteen. And once they wrap the sessions, which are marred by the requisite petty Troggs-tapes-style bickering, they toddle off to visit Stonehenge.

But the joke isn’t on Anvil in Anvil! Gervasi seems to take Ludlow and his drummer/cohort Robb Reiner as seriously as they take themselves. The result is perhaps the most affecting story of rock-star dreams ever put on film.

Despite its near-zero name recognition among non-metalheads, Anvil was a bona fide trailblazer in early 1980s metal, as a roll-call of metal/hard rock-god talking heads—Lars Ulrich, Tom Araya, Slash—and footage of a younger Ludlow and Reiner rocking a massive outdoor festival in Japan attest. But while Metallica, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, and others led metal out of the underground as the decade progressed, Anvil got left behind. They never stopped trying, continuing to tour and put out records, but the Toronto quartet just never caught the right kind of break.

And so Anvil! finds Ludlow, circa the mid-’00s, wearing a hairnet over his rock ’n’ roll locks for his day job delivering school lunches. He and Reiner, best friends since age 14, still dress in black jeans and leather jackets, but they’re nonetheless pushing-50 Canadian dudes with receding hairlines and wives and kids and mortgages. At one point the logorrheic Ludlow notes that he copes with his un-rock-star-like day-to-day life by keeping in mind that “it could never be worse than the way it is.” No wonder they seize every wisp of hope that their break might finally come. And judging from the talking-head interviews, they are surrounded by family members who either wish they would grow up already, which seems unkind, or who support them in continuing to chase their ever more elusive dream, which seems unwise.

Gervasi puts in sufficient time with his cameras that Ludlow and Reiner relax and expose all sorts of rocker folly and mensch-y personal vulnerability. The two elements together make for a potent combination. The members of Anvil are oblivious, to a certain extent, of how they come off—Reiner’s discussion of his paintings outstrips any Christopher Guest improv. But as they file through the backstage halls of a Romanian arena, a sardonic “Hello, Cleveland” tips the fact that the band members understand on some level that what they do is kind of ridiculous, even as they give their all to doing it, devoted to their goal and, in the end, to each other. And that, friends, is rock ’n’ roll.

So is Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (Magnolia), or at least it’s rock ’n’ roll’s breathless cinematic equivalent. Before you’re even an inch deep into your popcorn bowl, Mark Hartley’s amphetamine-paced documentary has zipped through the 1960s and thrust you face-first into the crazed world of the Australian exploitation cinema of the ’70s and ’80s, a garish low-budget wonderland of nudity, full-speed car crashes, broad satire, blood-soaked horror, and kung fu that existed alongside more genteel Aussie art-house fare, culminating in the international breakout success of the Mel Gibson-starring Mad Max.

Quentin Tarantino (of course) is on hand to gush about the likes of Antipodean grindhouse classics such as Road Games, Dead-End Drive-In, and Turkey Shoot, as are marquee American vets of Ozploitation such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper. But Hartley devotes most of the interview time to the undersung nutters who wrote the outrageous scripts, directed the berserk action, had their limbs ripped off, or flashed their pubes, all without ever slowing the film’s relentless momentum or getting stingy with the kind of frenzied clip-o-rama overload that could give the timid seizures. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine most of the films discussed being nearly as rock ’em, sock ’em entertaining as the unhinged Not Quite Hollywood itself. It’s like a solid week at the drive-in in an hour and a half.

The Godzilla flick is such a drive-in movie cliché that it’s easy to lose sight of its ground zero, so to speak, in a fairly grim film from a country recently traumatized by atomic warfare. Indeed, the version of the initial Godzilla film long familiar to American audiences is a chopped-up Hollywood hybrid featuring post-facto scenes shot with Raymond Burr. After releasing the original 1954 Japanese cut on DVD here in 2004, Classic Media now brings Gojira to Blu-ray. Though not campy in the least, it is a ’50s monster movie, which means a lot of earnest speechifying and middling melodrama; the print used for the Blu-ray transfer is pretty beat up, as well. Still, the film boasts some haunting black-and-white cinematography, a compellingly somber tone, and the King of Monsters, literally one of the biggest screen presences ever.

© 2009 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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