Sacha Gervasi's debut documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL reeks of a reality TV set-up in the way in which the narrative arc has been edited together from all the hours of footage. Gervasi tries very hard to make the story of ANVIL a "true underdog story" in the tried-and-tested Hollywood formula. First, you take a love-able loser, Anvil lead guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow. Second, you establish that they have been held down by some arbitrary force. In this case, bad management apparently prevented Anvil from progressing beyond initial success into truly successful Metal recording artists. Third, you have the protagonists start arguing under the stress of pursuing their dream. Finally, the love-able losers achieve success against all odds! We all love movies where Johnny Nobody makes it big because it makes us think it might happen to us too. But it's rare to see a director so blatantly try to manipulate us into that empathy. Just look at how he intercuts footage of Lips et al stressing about whether anyone's actually going to show at their Japanese come-back gig with footage of an empty stadium. And then watch him build to a crescendo - the camera panning out to the packed auditorium of Japanese metalheads.
This documentary has won a lot of critical acclaim and it has made a lot of money. People are describing as a feel-good doc - as Spinal Tap for real - as a heart-warming comedy. But it's not. It's a shameless and exploitative exercise. Gervasi exploits Anvil - posing them in scenes that recall SPINAL TAP. Gervasi exploits his audience in engineering the underdog-does-good climax. The tragedy is that Anvil are presumably all too happy to be exploited - finally getting some publicity after all these years. The only thing that saves this film is that the guys in the band are nice, so it's easy enough to spend time with them.
ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL played Sundance and Toronto 2009. It opened in the UK, US, Australia, Iceland, Japan and Canada in 2009 and is now available on DVD.
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