400) Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008) Dir: Sacha Gervasi Date Released: April 2009 Date Seen: November 15, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5
While it stands to reason that one might shoot a doc about a band around its members' respective schedules but that doesn't mean that one should structure the film that footage will go into around their whims, too. Anvil: The Story of Anvil does not present the viewer with an authoritative profile of its subjects, seminal Canadian metal band Anvil, who, after releasing a dozen albums, still hadn't made it big. Since the release of Sacha Gervasi's doc, they've enjoyed great success, a legit record deal and some high-profile gigs they could never have dreamed of before. Too bad Gervasi, a well-established though hardly famous British comedian, didn't have the patience or the foresight to either stick it out with the boys a little longer to chronicle their impending success, or even just to provide his subjects with a context that extends beyond the skimpiest of clip show montages.
The most damning thing about Gervasi's approach to structuring the plot of Anvil: The Story of Anvil is that he's more than content to just go with the band's flow. Even before we're provided with a few good scenes of how shitty touring for the band has been of late, a couple of reasons why we should care about the band are tossed at us but nothing beyond general, high-falutin, though possibly true, quotes from established metal-heads, like Slash and Lars Ulrich. It's as if Gervasi were trying to deliberately undercut the impact of the fair amount of archival material at his disposal, especially the concert footage that he uses far too sparingly. This is especially unnerving when he uses footage of the band on a talk show, where the topic of the day was sexually explicit lyrics in metal music. After the host reads a sample of Anvil's own bawdy verses, Gervasi quickly cuts away, depriving the viewer of the pleasure of seeing Anvil give a response beyond their patented stoner smirks.
There's never a doubt that Anvil's story is in fact a good one, a story of men that dedicated their lives to something that has never really paid off beyond their own tentative sense of satisfaction. But Gervasi just doesn't do them justice, limiting any footage that illuminates the band's mind-set to whatever they think of at any given moment. We're only given semi-serious conjecture from the band as to why they've never taken off right before they send off a demo tape to an old acquaintance with a recording studio, and even then, it's skimpy, at best. More than likely, the fact that these guys aren't Rhodes Scholars make it easy to think that they don't have anything profound to say in their defense, making a default "Whatever We Can Get, While We Can Get It" approach a likely quick-fix solution. They're not getting any younger so let's get this fucker out the door now, now, now.
Note: As I was discussing my problems with the film last night with noted colleague Mark Pfeiffer, I came to the realization that I wasn't bothered by how the more emotionally-charged confrontations in the film look extremely staged as I had asserted but rather that the band is very conscious of having a camera on them as Mark did. They figure it's ok to ham it up a bit for their adoring, not-yet-existent public and I understand why Gervasi indulged that impulse--raw canned emotion!--but, eh, I could have lived without it.