Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008), about a Canadian metal band active from the late 1970s to present, covers a much less popular group than most rock-docs. Widespread fame is well past the reach of middle-aged frontman Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow (guitar/vocals) who continues to perform and record. Anvil: The Story of Anvil presents a sympathetic portrait of this energetic, would-be star.
The film opens with a performance at a large metal festival in the mid-80s, when it was possible that the band could make it big. This blurry, unrestored VHS footage is followed by shots of Kudlow in his current-life. He delivers lunches for a food service company, driving an old van and pulling large coolers across snowy schoolyards. Yet, despite the fact that Kudlow has not achieved broad popularity, he continues to pursue musical stardom. Kudlow solicits identification from the audience as a liminal figure in the music world. He is a fan, still, as much as a performer. Midway through the film, the band lands a break and is able to perform (albeit at a very early hour) at a large metal festival in Sweden. The backstage interview with Kudlow plays humorously against rock-doc expectations. Rather than discussing his own performance or coolly relaxing, the small-time frontman searches eagerly for legitimate stars, rushing to greet more famous performers who are flustered by his enthusiasm.
When Kudlow makes a case for the transcendent quality of his musical performance it is in a much more intimate context. In the clip included here, Kudlow plays a show, his own birthday party, at a Toronto-area bar for around 100 people. Long-time fans attest that Kudlow himself delivers purchased albums and shirts to their homes. Kudlow enthuses about such performances as “beautiful moments, human moments when you are in the same room as the people that love you.” The scene evokes both sympathy and admiration for the same reasons: that Kudlow will not forsake his nearly impossible ambitions and that he finds so much enjoyment even at this modest moment in his performing career.