Also moving, also musically related, is Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a documentary about a metal band. Like many who come to this movie, I had not heard of Anvil, nor am I a metalhead. My first thought on seeing the trailer was that I wanted to see it but perhaps just on DVD given how far on the periphery of my interests it fell.
But I kept getting pitched to see it from UCLA film schoolers who raved about it, and given that it was only in LA for a one week run at the Nuart, and after reading a rave review by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, I planned an outing to see it last night and invited a bunch of friends.
Just one person responded, in the negative, and the remaining radio silence I read as tacit declines, perhaps reacting the same way I did to the trailer. So I went by myself; once I saw the documentary, that seemed only fitting.
Anvil was a seminal metal band, and in the early 80's, people in that genre of the industry foresaw big things for them, but for reasons not entirely clear to me as an outsider to that genre, they slipped into obscurity while bands like Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer went on to fame and fortune (in the documentary, they are referred to as The Big Four, a bit of trivia that was news to me).
Lead singer Steve Kudlow is known to all but his family as Lips. The drummer's name is Robb Reiner, a coincidence that seems so improbable and perfect that I thought he might have changed his name at one point, but no, this is art and life together in a winking conspiracy. The two of them are the founders and soul of Anvil, and even now, in their 50's, bicker, make up, repeat, like an old married couple.
What always surprises me is how sweet all the people involved in heavy metal music seem to be, from the musicians with their face paint and outfits heavy on leather and endless waves of hair to the fans with their heads bopping and tongues hanging. Lips is the star of the documentary, almost childlike in his optimism. He and Sally Hawkins' Poppy from Happy-Go-Lucky should get together, just to see if their buoyancy might generate a harmonic convergence that could bring about world peace.
Not that Lips doesn't have his moments of despair, but much of the wonder of this movie is watching him, on screen confronting his despair, and then setting it aside with what comes to seem a courageous perseverance and good cheer.
I can see why so many film students gravitate towards the story, as all who enter the arts confront the issue of "what price my art?" on a daily basis. The internet has made critics of us all, but it has not simplified the question of why people pursue art, and at what cost to themselves and their loved ones.
It's a touching story about which I will reveal little else other than to recommend it highly. See it if/when it makes it to your town. The director Sacha Gervasi, who wrote the screenplay for The Terminal and who is teaching screenwriting at UCLA Film School this quarter, showed up after the screening for an unpublicized Q&A. He was gracious and shared some intriguing stories:
- Gervasi met Anvil when he approached them backstage in London and introduced himself as their number one fan. Lips said it was their first time in London and asked Gervasi to show them around town, leading to the humorous image of Gervasi, a young metalhead, leading Lips and Reiner through the Tate Gallery. Gervasi claimed credit for introducing Reiner to the works of Francis Bacon, a story that is less humorous when you learn, in the movie, that Reiner paints Edward Hopper-esque scenes with considerable skill.
- At the screening at Sundance in 2008, a woman during the Q&A asked Lips if he'd ever considered what toll his pursuit of his music placed on his family, and Kudlow broke down and started crying, and then the woman started crying. And she said to him that at least he'd taught his son one of the most valuable lessons, and that was to never give up on his dreams.
Lastly, as part of our documentary launch at Hulu, we added a documentary I saw at Sundance years ago and loved, called DIG!. It shares some parallels with Anvil in its exploration of why artists do what they do.
Director Ondi Timoner, the only two-time Grand Jury Prize winner ever at Sundance, spoke to Hulu editor Rebecca Harper recently. One of the reasons this appealed to me more than many documentaries is that Timoner used one of the principal characters as a narrator, and not an unbiased, omniscient narrator. It's a twist that works, something Timoner spoke about:
Why choose to have Courtney narrate the film?
Courtney was a huge breakthrough for me. I'd attempted to tell the story without narration, but I needed an anchor. I didn't want omniscient narration; I wanted it to be a ride, a journey. So I woke up very pregnant in the middle of the night a month and a half before I finished. I called Courtney right away. He happened to be in Europe at the time, but he was flying into L.A. the next day. He didn't change any of my words; he was gracious and generous. I appreciate him for that.