This Is Anvil: Heavy Metal Doc Follows Band's 30-Year Quest for Fame
I watched Sacha Gervasi's wonderful documentary Anvil!: The Story of Anvil one afternoon and was overcome with a warm and fuzzy feeling I had never felt when consuming anything to do with heavy metal music. In fact, I realized while watching his film that I have always judged the hairy meathead metal dudes that tend to populate this genre of music as sweaty, smelly and, most probably, angry, not-nice guys. But by five minutes into my Anvil adventure, I wanted to hug these metal monsters! They were actually more considerate and responsible than most people I know with short hair. I love that about good documentaries. They make me realize my prejudice and break down any stereotypes I may harbor about the given subject matter.
I knew Sacha from years back as a comedy writer, and was so happy to discover that he had created this sensitively, well-told love letter to a band that fell short on fame and fortune but went long on the passion for what they did. When we connected the other day by phone, I found a very happy newcomer to the rock 'n' roll filmmaker club. He was so thrilled to have made this film and to be innovating its release. Here follows our talk...
Ondi Timoner: I never thought I would want to wrap my arms around a sweaty heavy metal dude.
Sacha Gervasi: Huggable and loveable is what was appealing to me. They are 14-year- old guys in a beautiful way stuck in time, and they are doing it for the right reasons and love what they do. They are passionate kids, so how can you not love them?
OT: They are doing it for the sake of it.
SG: Complete lack of business.
OT: How did you meet them?
SG: I was a huge fan of heavy metal, and they were playing at the Marquee [in London] in 1982. Though the first time I noticed them was when me and my friends saw the cover of Sounds Magazine where the lead singer, Lips, was brandishing a chainsaw and clinching a dildo in his teeth. I knew then I would like them, and they would piss off my mother. I was a huge fan then, of course, and the more she hated them, the more I loved them.
When they came to town, I went to the concert, and found my way backstage. I introduced myself as their biggest fan. Then, they asked me to show them around London. The best part was that I took them to meet Mom. When we arrived, she painfully smiled the whole time and made them leave after 10 minutes. Before they left, though, they signed the posters on my bedroom walls.
The following summer they were doing a tour and they invited me along on the road, and of course I went. I ran away and spent the summers of 1983 through1985 with them. One of the high points was the Metal for Africa concert in Albany, New York-especially when one of the band members from the Scorpions said, "Who is Africa?"
OT: What was your role in all this?
SG: My official role was drum tech, also know as Robb Reiner's drum roadie. Robb had just been offered to play with Ozzy [Osbourne], but he turned him down because he did not want to turn his back on Anvil. I also sold t-shirts.
OT: How were you able to go on tour, being a teenager in school?
SG: I was on holiday from school.
OT: Were there ever any drugs?
SG: A little weed-smoking, but nothing too crazy.
OT: Why do you think Anvil didn't become larger?
SG: First, Bon Jovi's manager offered to represent the band, but they were also approached by Johnny Z, who at the time was not that well known. They went with the bigger name, who tried to make them like Bon Jovi. Johnny Z went on to find Metallica. This could be one reason, but life is defined by windows. Decisions made at certain times affect everything, and they made the wrong decision at the wrong time. Had they gone big at that point, they don't think they would have kept it together. It would have been one album and nothing else.
OT: I love the shot of Lips pushing the tray in the beginning, at his day job. Poetic. Simple, visual. Poignant.
SG: I was trying to hang back and not get in the way. Because they are engaging.
OT: How long did you film them?
SG: Two years
OT: Did you always want to do this?
SG: No. It was spontaneous. We reconnected after 20 years, and within five minutes we were back in the same old arguments. They still believed they were going to make it. I was awed and inspired by this.
OT: They have had their moment, thanks to you. What has happened since?
SG: We decided we would just show the film everywhere. Then, MTV became interested. The band has a manager now, and booking agents. They have the same UK agent as Coldplay, and they are opening for Springsteen!
OT: What prompted the big fight in the film?
SG: Lips didn't feel like Robb was making enough of an effort; he was settling for non-perfect takes. So Lips exploded. The fight ended up going on from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
OT: They didn't ask you to turn the camera off?
SG: No, not at all. I told them they were fucking hilarious, like Spinal Tap, and if they embraced this, then the audience would be entertained, and they would not be a joke by the end of the movie. If I hadn't been completely honest, it would not have turned out the way it did. They have a humor about themselves.
OT: There is earnestness about them when they are together.
SG: That is what I hoped would come across.
OT: Do you have distribution?
SG: The film is coming out on April 10 in LA and New York, and then rolls out through May. AMC is booking us in certain locations; Richard Abramowitz is doing it. And MTV and VH1 are coming to support it as well. We have been doing the Anvil Live Experience, where the band goes to venues, and plays three songs after movie plays. By the end of the film, the audiences have been happy and excited to hear them. Also, Newsweek is going to be covering Anvil. It's amazing!
OT: What does your mother think of them now?
SG: She fucking loves them now! At the time, they were just long-haired metal guys, and now she sees they haven't ruined my life.
Ondi Timoner is the director of DIG!, Join Us and We Live In Public.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil, directed by Sacha Gervasi and produced by Rebecca Yeldham, opens April 10 in Los Angeles and New York through VH1 and Abramorama, followed by a national rollout. The film will premiere this summer on VH1, which will also handle the DVD release. For more information, go to www.anvilmovie.com.