For a hard-rock musician renowned for performing in a sexual harness and playing his guitar with a dildo, Steve 'Lips' Kudlow sure cries a lot.
“When I sat down with 'Lips' and said 'Hey, I wanna make a film about you', he instantly got it and he instantly started crying,” recalls the film's director, British-born Sacha Gervasi.
Australian-born producer Rebecca Yeldham recalls another emotional outburst whilst in Toronto.
“There's a restaurant near the hotel called Bistro 990, where all the Toronto festival people go, and I decide to go there with 'Lips' and Robb (Reiner, Anvil's drummer). So we sit down and 'Lips' starts getting all trembly and his bottom lip starts going and his eyes well-up and I ask him 'What's the matter?”. She pauses in thought, a smile beaming across her face. “He said, 'I delivered fish to the basement of this restaurant for eight years and I never thought I'd be sitting upstairs.' ”
For all of those eight years and considerably many more, 'Lips' Kudlow and Robb Reiner – childhood friends who formed a heavy-metal band called Anvil in Robb's garage – have kept the intensity of their dream and their music alive, even when the times have been incredibly tough.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil has been acclaimed the world over for capturing the essence of a great friendship and the creativity it inspires. It's all about the music and the band for Kudlow and Reiner; the film's blossoming reputation as a great bromance – between two mates who have survived each other's weaknesses to emerge closer than ever – is lost somewhat on the pair.
“We take ourselves for granted, you know,” says Reiner. “To us, we are just buddies”. “It's better than brothers because you are like brothers but not really!” says Kudlow with a laugh, “And we've had to kind of figure it out more recently [following the success of the film] than we ever have before.”
In person, 'Lips' and Reiner appear polar opposites. A jittery, wide-eyed presence with a tangle of hair that was once fuller-bodied, 'Lips' hangs on your every word, absorbing with his intense stare everything that comes his way. It seems an odd comparison, but if he were a Muppet, he'd be Gonzo.
Reiner is a barrel-chested big-man, yet he's somehow managed to maintain thin legs, which he squeezes into the tight black jeans that are de rigeur for metalheads. He has piercing blue eyes and impeccable skin, despite a heavy metal lifestyle that has spanned three decades. He is more introspective, often condensing the free-form rants that 'Lips' is prone to into concise, five or six word summaries. They share a couch with a relaxed physicality that only comes from years of friendship – a friendship that is at the centre of the film and has ensured it has travelled beyond the metal-fan audience.
When asked if the angry young men that founded Anvil all those years ago still burn within the middle-age rockers they have become, 'Lips' defends his genre. “I don't know if it's really anger, it's just art to us. I guess aggressive is a better way to describe the music than angry. And, yes, I still feel aggressive.”
The film began as a love letter to the band from Gervasi. “I saw Anvil in London in 1982 and fell in love with them. I went along to their first show at the Marquee Club and remember turning the corner of Waldorf Street and seeing about 700 or 800 kids all lined up. Only 200 were going to get in that night and I was lucky enough to be one of them.” It was a transformative experience for the-then 15 year-old metal fan. “They were mind-bendingly good. They came out and they were loud and they were fast.”
So inspired was Gervasi that he tricked his way backstage and introduced himself to Reiner as England's number one Anvil fan. It worked. “I ended up being Anvil's tour guide! We went to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Abbey Road.” Close to his childhood home, the young fan popped in to introduce the band to his mum. “My poor mum, her face....she had been telling me for six months to turn off that stupid record, 'Metal on Metal' – I had a poster of the band on my wall – and here they were at her front door. She said I had to get them out of the house in ten minutes”.
Yeldham, whose producing credits include The Motorcycle Diaries and The Kite Runner, was not so enamoured with metal as a youngster and had never heard of Anvil. “I was into The Go-Gos,” she says, reservedly. And the first meeting with the leather clad 'Lips' and the pouch-wearing Reiner in the foyer of one of Canada's five-star hotels was particularly daunting (“I remember thinking 'Oh, this is going to be a long night'” she recalls.) But Yeldham became committed to the project after spending a few short hours with the founding members of Anvil.
“If you look at 'Lips' and Robb and take them at face value and make any sort of assumptions about who they are as human beings....” Yeldham says, pausing to reflect upon her own preconceptions. “Well, this film is an opportunity to discover two human beings who are as poetic and soulful and vulnerable and resourceful as anybody you have ever met”. The producer is now an unwavering fan of the band and the passionate brilliance of 'Lips' Kudlow. “He's this kind of golden Yoda / Dr. Ruth metal poet, with great hair. If you asked him now if he always thought it was going to lead to this moment – where the film is inspiring people and his band is opening in front of 80,000 people for AC/DC – he goes 'Yeah, I knew I'd be here'.”
The selling of the film has been a long haul for all involved. Now into the 20th month of a global release pattern, the momentum the film has gained and the goodwill generated from solid U.K. and U.S. audiences and festival patrons around the world has put some of Gervasi's concerns to rest. The production team was buoyed by a rousing Sundance screening – “A woman in her mid-60s bought three Anvil CDs after the screening”, remembers Gervasi. “She told me she'd never listen to them, but she just wanted to help out”.
But the heat went cold very quickly. “Last November, it was brutal. We had nearly done a couple of deals. We could have gone out on a couple of screens in New York and L.A., but we would've lasted a week. Ultimately, we kind of self-released it.” Gervasi could have settled into a comfortable Hollywood lifestyle, having written the script for the Steven Spielberg / Tom Hanks film, The Terminal, but instead he put his burgeoning Hollywood career on hold to sell his documentary.
It was after the successful Sundance premiere that a moment occurred that best sums up the fateful bond between 'Lips', Reiner and Gervasi. As recalled by Rebecca Yeldham, the crew were at the Panda Chinese Restaurant in Park City, Utah. 'Lips' stood and acknowledged how the ongoing passion of a fan like Sacha Gervasi had resulted in this film: “The seeds of yesterday are the tall trees of tomorrow”. In the truest of metal moments, he pounded his right hand over his heart and said “Top left, motherfucker.” Yeldham recalls that everyone shed a tear … “especially 'Lips'.”