The mention of 8 Mile introduces another quibble with Sheridan’s film: you’ve seen it before. There’s no disputing that 50 Cent’s personal story is remarkable, given that he survived being shot nine times in 2000, made it out of the drug culture, and was able to elevate himself in the post-Tupac universe. The re-enactment of his shooting in the film, though under somewhat different circumstances, is well-staged and horrifying, even though the audience knows it’s coming. But you feel as though you’ve seen many of the other sequences in other films. The triumphant ascendancy of the rapper onto a stage a la Hanson’s picture; ultra-violent thugs making aggressive power plays a la New Jack City or Scarface; a montage of revenge killings a la every Martin Scorcese mafia picture. Hell, there’s even a torturous payback scene that would please fans of the Saw franchise.
Much like another film that worked extra hard to spin gold from arguably straw-like talent (rather successfully), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the real star here is on the other side of the camera. Credit Jim Sheridan for recognizing and attempting to illuminate for us the shared humanity between poor Irish families struggling collectively for their national dignity and motherless children victimized by the drug underworld in New York City. In every frame of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, one can feel the emotional investment the director has made in telling this story. This is one DVD where watching the “making of” feature is a must, because it gives the viewer a chance to observe Sheridan guiding 50 Cent through his old Dublin neighborhood, choreographing a nasty knife-fight in a jail with his own physical stunt work, even instructing the rapper on how to express himself more effectively in the recording studio! In spite of the film’s debatable artistic success, the uncommon collaboration that produced it is special.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ may not have made an actor out of Curtis Jackson. But the man made it out of his own story alive. And he was smart enough to put the telling of it into the hands of a visionary filmmaker who, while perhaps looking like a fish out of water on the streets he shot it on, clearly could hear and feel the steady pulse hammering between and around them, and in his film he put his finger right on to it.
I have written before [hyperlink to http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/99248] about my personal history as a trooper in the metal militia, and can report with all honesty that I have always resisted the inclination to denounce this heritage. What fun would that be? Maintaining one’s embrace on heavy metal requires one to keep a stranglehold on the last vestiges of juvenile bluster. My suspicion is that this is easier to accomplish for men than women. But I have not worked both sides of that particular aisle.
Another way to express the operative principle at work here is to deploy the motto from those old KISS concert t-shirts: IF IT'S TOO LOUD, YOU'RE TOO OLD.
Anvil, the documentary, opens with 1982 concert footage from an outdoor metal festival in Japan. Do not adjust your sets: people actually looked and acted like that once upon a time. The film points out that every single band participating in that show went on to sell millions of records – with one glaring exception. The viewer is introduced to Anvil doing what they did then, and have continued to do ever since, no matter who is or is not listening. The song “Metal on Metal” is performed in all its chord-crunching glory, and it becomes the musical and thematic centerpiece, illogically, to the entire film.
From there, we are transported to freezing Ontario, Canada, the hometown and current stomping grounds of Kudlow and Reiner. Kudlow works diligently delivering food to disadvantaged children as a day job, and in between stops he waxes rather hopefully about his undying rock and roll dreams. An inherent humanity and generosity of spirit shines through Kudlow’s foul-mouthed and simplistic monologues about what he has accomplished and what he still hopes to do. Reiner is revealed to be a less verbal and perhaps slightly more jaded brother in arms to Kudlow’s sometimes manic personality. But one eventually leaves the film having no doubt that “brother” is the appropriate term for both men.
Throughout the entire first half of this earnest and lovingly-crafted documentary, one’s gut instinct is to laugh at all the calamities and misfortunes that constantly saddle these aging rockers. Or, if a viewer is slightly more mean-spirited, to hurl adjectives such as “lame” and “pathetic” at the men. We witness the latest incarnation of the band, with its Spinal Tap-like turnstile of members (hardly the only nod towards the classic “mockumentary” This is Spinal Tap directed by Rob – one “b” – Reiner to appear here), survive a disastrous tour of Europe in the hands of an inept manager. We wonder how long these full-grown men with spouses and children (in Kudlow’s case) can, or should, continue to fool themselves.
I said earlier that it helps to have an appreciation of metal music, but it is far from necessary for Anvil to rock your heart. The reason for this is simple, and perceiving it is the filmmakers’ triumph. The more you witness the degrading circumstances these men battle against, and observe the way they respond to them, the more you understand that Anvil – the film, and maybe even the band itself – is not really about heavy metal music at all. At each setback they encounter, we see Kudlow physically slump as though he has taken a pounding. But his attitude towards his failures is far from a defeated one. He expresses gratitude for those who helped him try, and renews his dedication to keep going – every time.
One realizes that, all along, Kudlow has never asked for much. All he wants is an opportunity to seize the happiness he has been yearning for his entire life, and he understands that the only way he can do that is to build something worthwhile with the tools he’s been given. He’s not looking for a handout. By the time we reach the end of the film, where Anvil takes one more crack at this elusive hope in an unexpected venue, we find ourselves caring for these men in a way we never would have believed possible. You may tear up before this film is over – no kidding.
After viewing Anvil: The Story of Anvil, one inevitably recalls the fact that all of us have been given certain gifts by a generous Creator. Are we as grateful for our own as “Lips” Kudlow is for his?
Or, I could summarize all of the preceding thoughts in another way. Here is a documentary that makes just about everyone who sees it aspire to be a little more like the lead singer of Anvil, an 80s metal bastion that flamed out long ago in a blaze of obscurity. If that doesn’t say something about the accomplishment of this film, I don’t know if I have other words that can.