When "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" director Sasha Gervasi turned off his cameras for the last time, officially wrapping filming on his quirky, inspiring documentary on Canadian heavy metal band Anvil, he'd shot 320 hours of footage. That's 320 hours of gigs, quarrelsome recording sessions, European meandering and a near-physical brawl with one deadbeat club owner.
After the necessary trimming, the former Anvil roadie ended up with an 80-minute film chronicling his adolescent heroes, the middle-aged rockers who once played before thousands but had for years gigged and recorded in relative anonymity. It followed longtime friends and band mates, guitarist and vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, as they embarked on a disastrous European tour and recorded their 13th album, 2007's "This Is Thirteen."
The rousing underdog story struck a chord after premiering at Sundance in 2008. The once under-the-radar band has since opened for AC/DC, played "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" and hit a number of festivals. Tonight, they play Emo's after a screening of the documentary as part of the 27-date "The Anvil Experience." The inexhaustible Kudlow spoke with us by phone about the movie's genesis, the hardscrabble struggle of rock 'n' roll and Anvil's place in history.
You appear throughout the film with a fanny pack on, and there's one included in the VIP tickets for 'The Anvil Experience.' I have to ask — what's in there?
Wallet, money, keys, rolling papers, tobacco, false teeth, pens, paper, my phone, my passport, all the (expletive) that you got to put in your pockets otherwise. Everything goes in, man.
You've said in previous interviews that on your end you were eager to do the movie when Gervasi came to you, but did he ever explain why he wanted to do it? And why he picked 2005 as the right time to start?
We hadn't been in touch with Sacha for probably close to 20 years. He sent me an e-mail and asked me to come visit him in L.A. And when I showed up, I brought all the records he'd never heard before and he'd realized we kept going and he thought it was a compelling story. He was about to begin a movie about Herve Jean-Pierre Villechaize, the dwarf from "Fantasy Island." But he found us extraordinarily compelling. So he decided to do the movie, simple as that. It wasn't really planned. It was happenstance.
How do you think this movie stacks up to other rock documentaries in terms of the picture it paints of being a working musician?
It's very representative. Let's face it: There's like four big bands in metal and there's thousands of other bands that aren't big. So, this movie is a glimpse of and celebration for all those who go out and do it because they love it, which is by far the majority. What makes this a great rock movie is the pure honesty. People are sick and tired of being misled and lied to and this is one of the few movies that really divulges the true realities of what it takes to make it. It's much like the idea of filming Vincent Van Gogh out in the cornfield, actually doing the painting, as opposed to checking it out afterward when he's long dead.
Did you expect the movie to strike such a chord with audiences that aren't necessarily into — and might even actively dislike — heavy metal?
I hoped it would, because it wouldn't matter whether it was heavy metal or country or Western; the heart of the story is about determination, personal sacrifice, love, dedication to a cause. I mean, we could have been pyramid builders. It wouldn't have made a difference. The way I look at it is Robb and I built this incredible pyramid, and we have to put this last block on the top, and they filmed it! It doesn't matter what the genre of music was or whether it was even really about music at all. It was about all those human spirit elements, which is a lot bigger demographic than if it were just about a heavy metal band. The metal is only the backdrop.
Are you worried about the band's future dimming after the shelf life of the film is up?
Hell no, man. You can't take away what's happened. How do you change history once it's happened? Have we forgotten about World War II? It's in the history books, man. You can't take it away, in the same way that you couldn't take away what we did in the early '80s. What we've created, I believe it will be remembered. It won't just end after the movie, and it's already been two and a half years and it's still going. I think that the life of this movie will go on for a long time. People are still watching "This Is Spinal Tap," and it's 25 years later.