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The Weird Saga of Rock Documentary ‘Anvil!’ Continues With Re-Release and Live Launch

A kickoff party for the return of Sacha Gervasi’s 13-year-old rock documentary brought Steve-O, Dustin Hoffman and heavy metal rock to Beverly Hills

AWARDS BEAT

The world re-premiere of the rock documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” which took place at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Thursday night, began when the movie started to play with the houselights still on. Then lights went off, except for a huge monitor just off the stage that continued to shine in the face of the audience. Then, after about a minute, the film lurched to a halt when the screen froze completely.

As a way to kick off a celebration of a film about an influential but only marginally successful heavy metal band that in some ways resembles a real-life Spinal Tap, it was perfect.

And “Anvil!” director Sacha Gervasi said as much when he came onstage after the snafu-filled opening. “As usual with Anvil,” he said, “there was a massive f—up!”

Then again, massive f—ups – and more importantly, the perseverance to get through them and keep going – is what Anvil the band and “Anvil!” the movie are all about. Let’s face it: It just wouldn’t have seemed right if things had gone perfectly smoothly at the launch of the movie’s re-release, which will include a one-night event in 200 theaters on Tuesday, Sept. 27, followed by theatrical runs through October.

(In fact, “Anvil!” will be in five times more theaters in 2022 than it was during its initial release in 2009 – because, I guess, that’s the way they roll.)

The band was formed almost 50 years ago in Canada by guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, and endured decades of misadventures and commercial flops even as they picked up an avid following among fellow bands like Slayer and Guns N’ Roses. Then a screenwriter, Gervasi decided to make a film about the band he’d been obsessed with in his teens, going as far as to serve as a roadie on three of their tours – and after its own string of fluky occurrences, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” got a small release (after Gervasi took out a second mortgage on his house) and a small but spirited awards campaign. When they didn’t make the Oscars documentary shortlist, they took out a full-page ad touting themselves for Best Picture. That didn’t work, but the film was named 2009’s best documentary by the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the International Documentary Association.

“Anvil!” also gave a big boost to the careers of the band members, who have not had to work day jobs since its release, and to Gervasi, who has gone on to direct “Hitchcock” and “My Dinner With Herve.” (Full disclosure: My son works for Gervasi.) And that led to the unexpected re-release, which grew out of a screening that Gervasi did for the teenage son of “Anvil!” producer Rebecca Yeldham, whose friends were going stir crazy during the pandemic.

“Can you believe it?” Gervasi said in the lobby of the Saban Theatre, which drew a hefty crowd that included longtime “Anvil!” fan Dustin Hoffman and “Jackass” star Steve-O, who moderated a post-screening Q&A with Gervasi, Yeldham, Kudlow and Reiner. “It’s happening again 13 years later!”

After the aborted opening, Gervasi gave a quick history of his relationship with Anvil, which came when he was a teenager who slipped backstage at a London concert and ended up taking the band on a tour of the city the next day. “I met the band 40 years ago tonight, which is why this night is a f—ing serious night,” he said. At the time, the band nicknamed the British kid “Teabag” – and when he sent a note to their website decades later, he said he got a quick response from Kudlow that said, “Teabag! We thought you’d died or become a lawyer!”

“I did have a minor heroin overdose at law school,” claimed Gervasi, who did not become a lawyer. “So they were almost right.”

A sizeable chunk of the crowd had not seen “Anvil!” the first time around, so the film played as a mixture of fans remembering their favorite parts and newcomers discovering how funny and lovable the band’s occasional successes and frequent failures could be – particularly in retrospect, with the movie writing its own happy ending for a band that has recorded six more albums and done its biggest shows ever in the last 13 years.

Anvil - Steve Lips Kudlow
Steve “Lips” Kudlow of Anvil / Getty Images for Utopia

When the movie ended, the curtain rose to reveal the group, now a three-piece with only bassist Chris Robertson to accompany Kudlow and Reiner as they bashed through five songs and half an hour of head-banging. Kudlow’s bald spot is bigger and Reiner’s hair is grayer, but otherwise, they’re still the hard-hitting, somewhat goofy, oddly endearing heavy metal band they were when Gervasi made the movie.

Gervasi took over the drums for “School Love,” while Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian joined the band for the inevitable closer, “Metal on Metal,” after which Steve-O came out, gushed about the movie and the band and tried unsuccessfully to impose some kind of order on the Q&A. (Actually, he didn’t really try to impose order – in fact, he was one of the reasons why the session was kind of a shambles, just the way an “Anvil!” Q&A should be.)

The final words fell to Gervasi, who pointed out that the band would be selling t-shirts in the lobby and then asked the aspiring directors in the audience to learn a lesson from his experience with a film that he self-financed the film and edited on his kitchen table.

“If you’re a young filmmaker,” he shouted, “don’t f—ing give up!”

A special presentation of the remastered 13th-anniversary version of “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” will screen in 200 theaters on Tuesday, Sept. 27, followed by a nationwide re-release from Utopia and Abramorama. Information is available at https://www.anvilthefilm.com.