Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Notes on two new documentaries


A couple of worthy documentaries open this weekend, and they couldn't be more different.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" chronicles the 30-year history of a heavy metal band called (you guessed it) Anvil. It seems that Anvil enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame during the 1980s. The group flashed hot for a moment, but somehow never made it into the upper echelons where bands such as Metallica live. The same probably could be said for lots of groups, but Anvil is a band with difference. The band's founders -- Steve "Lips" Kudlow (vocals) and Robb Reiner (drums) -- are still at it. These guys still harbor rock 'n roll dreams, and during the film, they pursue them on an ill-fated European tour that's bound -- as has been pointed out in nearly every review of the movie -- to remind audiences of "This Is Spinal Tap." We're talking under-populated venues, crummy travel arrangements, a clueless booker and a mood that tends to reinforce the band's general sense of failure. But even the problems of the tour can't deter Anvil. When the band arrives back in Canada, Lips raises enough money to cut a record with a former producer who still believes Anvil may be able to catapult to the top of the charts. The efforts of Anvil seem both heroic and pathetic at the same time. You half wish these steadfast Canadians would abandon their youthful dream and you half admire their refusal to surrender their ambitions. Directed by Sacha Gervasi, a screenwriter who once worked with the band as a roadie, the movie captures Lips dedication (madness?). His drive may be at the heart of what has sustained Anvil over so many years. It also helps keep the wheels of this oddball documentary turning.

"Outrage,'' by director Kirby Dick, is a whole different story. Best known for the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," Dick turns from the hypocrisies of the movie rating system to the hypocrisies of politics, focusing on gay politicians who consistently vote against gay rights. Outing politicians isn't the point, the film insists, and to some measure it's not. The film talks about the torment of people who live in the closet, and tries to describe the pressures that encourage certain legislators to vote against issues beneficial to gays. Barney Frank, the gay Massachusetts congressman puts the issue squarely: "There's a right to privacy, but there's no right to hypocrisy." The trouble: It's impossible to talk about such hypocrisy without violating privacy, particularly in the case of politicians who insist that they're not gay. Florida's governor, Charlie Crist is one such. James McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey, becomes a kind of spokesman for opening the closet door. McGreevey speaks eloquently about the double life he once led. Is Idaho's Larry Craig, the former Senator from Idaho gay? The film thinks he definitely is. Craig, you'll recall, was arrested in 2007 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, accused of playing footsie with someone in an airport men's room. There's much more to "Outrage" than sensationalism; the film criticizes the mainstream media for ignoring the gay lives of politicians, particularly those who make a point of espousing a family-values agenda, and it does make you wonder how these same folks might fare if they acknowledged the truth the film insists it knows.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" and "Outrage" open in Denver Friday.

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