Irving Thalberg once said that every great movie should have one great scene and it’s true. I thought about this quote while I watched the excellent doc Anvil! The Story of Anvil this past Friday. The tale of a metal band trying to make it twenty-plus years after their genre’s heyday proved funny, honest, and disarmingly poignant. Director Sacha Gervasi covers topics as diverse as selling out and rocking out, aging, and friendship through following the lifelong partnership of drummer Robb Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow. And the soundtrack wasn’t too bad either.
Which brings me to that great scene. Gervasi covers the band during a recording session for their thirteenth album, the aptly titled “This Is Thirteen.” This may be one of the band’s most difficult moments—they are locked away in Dover (England not Delaware) with aging metal producer Chris Tsangarides. This is the perfect moment for Gervasi to really “go deep” and explore the characters.
In one scene, Lips sings over an instrumental mix, giving a so-so take of the lead vocals to title track “This Is Thirteen.” While Lips listens to the back-up tracks via headphones, we in the audience are only able to hear his off-key warbling. The effect is haunting—instead of the rock and roll posturing that we expect from this kind of band, we get the jarring lead vocals of an un-auto-tuned, un-pro-tooled man. If any scene distills the movie’s theme, this is it—a broken man singing his heart out to a soundtrack only he can hear. It’s going to the “honesty zone” as my friend makeitupscale would say. And, gosh, it feels good.
I think Gervasi is that rare documentarian whose ideas are not only pristine and well-studied, but whose footage bears him out. It’s not only a well-written thesis, these rock and roll dreamers must face reality, he supports that premise with perfect scenes that delve deep into his characters. Lips and Reiner argue with a club owner in Prague who stiffs them for their money. Lips waits outside a rock festival to meet Ted Nugent but is left empty handed. Not to mention those scenes where Gervasi shadows Lips’ crummy catering job outside Toronto.
So well etched out, these scenes of rock and roll disappointment stick. And by the conclusion, when Anvil does draw heat and gains recognition in Japan, it makes the triumph all the sweeter. Gervasi does such a good job communicating his characters’ personalities and motives, we feel as though we know—and care—about them. For those who continue to rock, no matter the obstacles, this movie is for you.
What great scenes do you remember from some great movies? Which ones stick with you and why?