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Sacha Gervasi Lifts “Anvil”

Sacha Gervasi Lifts “Anvil” (photo)

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The story of “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” began in a London rock club in the early ’80s, where a teenage metal devotee named Sacha Gervasi first saw Canadian rockers Anvil. After the show, Gervasi went backstage and met the band, striking up a friendship with Anvil’s lead singer and guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner. Eventually, Lips and Robb invited the then-15-year-old to be a roadie on their North American tour the next summer. Asked what a documentary on his relationship with the band during that period might have looked like, Gervasi replies, “That would have been amazing. People would not have believed it. My 17th birthday party: Angus Young of AC/DC, Kelly Johnson from Girlschool, Lemmy from Motörhead. I was hanging out with these guys! I was this young precocious public school boy who was into heavy metal.”

The precocious public school boy lost touch with the band, but years later, Gervasi looked up Anvil, and discovered that Lips and Robb had continued to record and tour together, despite the fact that rock stardom had eluded them. Eventually, Gervasi became convinced he needed to capture their struggle on film, a project he believed in so strongly that he sunk his own money into it. His documentary follows Lips, Robb and their bandmates on a journey that’s both hilarious and touching. Early sequences follow the group on a disastrously Spinal Tap-ish tour of Europe, where they play 10,000-seat venues to audiences of 175, and where, after a particularly bad gig, Robb notes of Anvil’s travel woes, “I can sum it up in one word… two words… three words: We don’t have good management.”

But “Anvil!” is ultimately a genuinely moving tribute to a remarkable friendship between a couple of guys who’ve never given up their dreams. And after decades in the musical desert, the band — thanks to the escalating buzz surrounding the film — is suddenly in high demand. I spoke with Gervasi just before he, Lips and Robb headed off to a GQ photo shoot; Gervasi was also trying to figure out how to make time for the guys to appear the following morning on “The Opie & Anthony Show.” For the director, this was the whole point. “I wanted to do a good thing for these guys,” he says. “And it’s amazing. When your heart’s in the right place, you can’t really fail.”

The movie begins with metal heavyweights like Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Anthrax’s Scott Ian talking about the band. You ask all of them why Anvil didn’t make it, and no one seems to have a good answer. I’m wondering why you think they never became superstars.

I think it was a combination of things. Anvil is notoriously too early or too late. In this case, they were too early. In 1982, they came out with “Metal on Metal” and while they were figuring out what direction to go in, they signed with this big manager named David Krebs, who managed AC/DC, The Scorpions and Bon Jovi. He was saying, “You shouldn’t be doing the hard stuff like ‘Metal on Metal’ or ‘666!’ You should be focusing on being like Bon Jovi.” The biggest manager in the business is telling them that if they want to be huge, this is what they should be doing. Meanwhile, Metallica, who were listening to [Canadian speed metal bands] Exciter and Anvil, took all of that and went bang! And while Anvil was arguing amongst themselves, I think there was a window that they missed. That’s my personal theory.

04072009_anvil4.jpgAt a certain point, you lost contact with the band. Was the idea of making a documentary about Anvil what brought you guys back together?

Not at all. In the summer of 2005, Anvil just came into my mind one night. I remember I was at the beach, just hanging out and listening to Metallica and I thought “That sounds so much like Anvil!” And I was like “What happened to them?”

I went online and discovered that the band had never quit. And I was like, “How is it possible that they didn’t make it and they didn’t kill each other?” I discovered ten albums I’d never heard of and saw photos from a show at the Horseshoe Tavern the week before. I was fascinated.

I wrote to the web site and got an e-mail back from Lips a week later. He was in L.A. It was as if the 20 years went by [snaps fingers] like that. I took him to my mentor, [screenwriter] Steve Zallian’s house — he was the one who introduced me to Steven Spielberg [who directed Gervasi’s screenplay for “The Terminal”]. I remember sitting in Steve’s kitchen and looking through the window at Lips explaining speed metal to Steve’s wife Elizabeth. I said to Steve, “He’s never given up. Why? Wouldn’t you just give up? He still believes he can make it.” It just suddenly hit me: It’s a movie.

“Anvil!” includes many obvious references to “Spinal Tap.” The one big difference — besides the fact that “Spinal Tap” is a fake documentary and yours is real — is that the director of “Spinal Tap” appears onscreen to lead us through the film. Did you ever consider putting yourself into “Anvil!” in a similar role?

I did. In an earlier version, I thought we’d just do “Spinal Tap” and we’ll freak people out because it’s real. So we did a version where I narrated. But the movie’s about these two guys. And by removing myself entirely, it just became obvious that that was what the film was. I just felt like it was an unnecessary filter.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Laughs, Loathing and Lyme Disease

Laughs, Loathing and Lyme Disease (photo)

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This week finds a couple of small screen favorites treated to big screen outings, comedies both black and blacker, as well as the ballad of the real-life Spinal Tap.

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“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”
With its singer’s proclivity to play the guitar with a dildo, a disastrous tour managed by a churlish Swiss-Italian fan with little professional experience, and a drummer really named Robb Reiner), comparisons to the 1984 mother of all music mockumentaries are inevitable. But ladies and gentlemen, this really is Spinal Tap, and so much more. First-time director Sacha Gervasi, who served as Anvil’s roadie for a time in the ’80s, follows the legendary underground Canadian rockers throughout their ill-fated European tour in preparation for their 13th studio album. Still chasing the dream and that ever-elusive break, they subsist on a strained friendship, bad food and blind optimism to the tune of “at least there is a tour for everything to go wrong on.”
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

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LISTS: Best Music Scenes In Film

LISTS:  Best Music Scenes In Film (photo)

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I know I keep harping on it, but I loved the film The Wrestler. I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling ever since I was a child–and for a short stint I also did some announcing work for an independent wrestling circuit–so I can tell you that The Wrestler is as authentic of a wrestling movie as you’re going to get.

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