The most remarkable thing about Sacha Gervasi’s “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” may be that it is unarguably one of the most heart-swelling and moving films ever made about rock ‘n’ roll, and at the same time, it is very unlikely to convert any viewers into passionate Anvil fans. In fact, the movie barely bothers to make a case for Anvil, the orphaned band maudit from the ’80s surge in heavy metal heavy hitters, as musicians, and doesn’t allow you to hear a single song all the way through. (Contrast that to, say, Jeff Stein’s “The Kids Are Alright,” which has certainly transformed innocent non-partisans into life-grabbing Who fans, and did it with whole songs played beginning to end.)
Frankly, Anvil’s thunking, adolescent caterwaul isn’t very promising, even if Anvil’s commercial fate seems less surprising in retrospect than the success of bands like Mötley Crüe, Anthrax and Megadeth. It’s no news: show business and its audiences are fickle bitches, utterly careless and sometimes cruel with the fates of the starry-eyed. As it is, Gervasi, a die-hard fan and ex-roadie, may love Anvil, but he knows his film couldn’t sell the Canadian band’s music to non-metalheads, and so he very smartly focuses instead on the group’s two standing members, Steve Kudlow and Robb Reiner, both of whom are terribly easy to love and root for. There, at the outset, we’re faced with the heartbreaking B-side of the American showbiz dream: once on the verge of global stardom, Kudlow and Reiner are now back in small-town Canada, cobbling together low-rent livings as a food-service deliveryman and a jackhammering construction workhorse, respectively. And they’ve been there for 20 years, still touring on occasion (playing to often threadbare audiences, sometimes to no one at all), and still hoping their luck will turn around.
Well, of course it has, thanks to Gervasi’s film, which, like Errol Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line” has literally rescued its own subjects from the fate the film documents. (Anvil is now backing up AC/DC, has had their self-promoted latest album rereleased by VH1, and is now a vet of late-night talk shows.) If anyone has earned it, Kudlow and Reiner have, and not just with longevity, but with purity of heart — they were going to their graves playing as Anvil, even if it meant playing only to their loyal wives and kids.
Steve “Lips” Kudlow is the protagonist here, the most guileless and endearingly unpretentious aging rocker of all time, his watery basset-hound eyes and huge crooked grin beseeching an unfair world for another chance to play classics like “Metal on Metal,” “Flight of the Bumble Beast” and “Infanticide.” Reiner, the drummer and the more widely acknowledged musical innovator, is far more introverted, but naturally Gervasi’s film becomes a portrait of the two men’s lifelong hard rock marriage-of-passion, a working friendship that has lasted so long it seems more durable than any other relationship in their lives. But the reason “Anvil!” has been a phenomenon is because the boys’ arc from menopausal zeroes to heroes had already begun, in the mysterious differential between a ripoff Berlin nightclub appearance featuring a few dozen spectators and a invitation to a festival in Japan, where for some reason the stadium fills with thousands of raving young Asian fans. Kudlow and Reiner stepped in shit somewhere, but so did Gervasi.
Feel free to sour your feel-good Anvil buzz with Anders Morgenthaler’s “Princess,” a Danish anime (!) from Lars von Trier’s production company that tackles the hot zone between the porn industry and children, and then pulls you into the dogfight with a suicide’s desperation. Juxtaposing old-fashioned frame-by-frame sketch drawing and swoony digital flourishes, the movie begins with the shooting of a pregnant gangbang, witnessed by the actress’ priest brother, and then rolls out into a revenge flick sans frontières, as the disillusioned man rescues the abused five-year-old daughter of his now-dead sister from a brothel, and becomes an Andrew Vachss-ish avenging angel.
Blood, or in Godard’s phrase “red,” puddles and sprays in great quantities, when it’s not supplementing the action with live-action home-movie flashbacks. Morgenthaler’s world is hyperbolic in the graphic novel way — the dead actress’ exploiteer-boyfriend erects a lavish tomb for her surrounded by giant stone penises — but its sense of outrage is curdling, and its moral balance sheet is complex, since the brother was culpable at the beginning of his sister’s career, and the little girl is a semi-civilized ruined thing prone to grabbing at adult crotches. She is, in fact, drawn a little too much like Boo from “Monsters, Inc.” for comfort — but nothing about “Princess” is supposed to be comforting, except perhaps the tour de force sequence in which the porn company’s entire operation is burned to the ground to the tune of Edith Piaf’s “No Regrets.” When the five-year-old musters the rage to finish off a porn lackey with a tire iron, you know there’s no salvation ahead.
[Additional photo: “Princess,” Zentropa Entertainments, 2006]