Everybody loves a good underdog story. A few years back the excellent “Story of Anvil” documentary breathed new life in the veteran Canadian heavy metal band with its story of aging rockers clinging to their dreams of stardom. The more recent “We Are Twisted Fucking Sister” also explored that band’s formative years and 10 year grind to reach fleeting success. Can Thor find similar success 40 years into his career?
“I Am Thor” looks at the career of Jon Mikl Thor, a former bodybuilder and self-proclaimed “Legendary Rock Warrior”. After a stint as a nude waiter (he quit when a new hire outshoned him with his bigger… hammer), Thor turned to rock and released his first album “Thor Body Rock” in 1973. Dressed as a viking warrior, Thor would also bend steel with his bare hands, and would burst hot water bags by over inflating them.
The movie tracks his career throughout the 70’s, his attempts at movie stardom in the 80’s and his retirement in 1987. The narrative then picks up in 1997 as he attempts a comeback tour and tries to reach the stardom that has eluded him. By this time Thor looks like he’s indulged a little too much of the buffet table in Asgard. For one show he hires some sexy girls to play his Valkyries and one of them can’t stop laughing because he doesn’t look like the cover of his early albums.
Through interviews and actual behind the scenes footage, the movie oscillates between supporting Thor’s claim of overdue super stardom and exposing the ludicrousness of his expectations. Thor’s stage act makes a W.A.S.P. show look like a world-class presentation in comparison. Cheap props, corny circus tricks and cheesy songs sink any claim he might have to respectability, but that does not stop him for saying, with a straight face, that his band “should be as big as Led Zeppelin”.
Lyrically, Thor operates at the level of a 12-year-old who just discovered “Dungeons & Dragons”. Songs like “Thunder on the Tundra” or “Devastation of Musculation” make for clumsy choruses that he treats like stadium anthems nonetheless. At one point he explains that his lyrics are very deep and must be analyzed at the second degree. He even compares his writing to that of Bob Dylan. The only problem is that he’s referring to a song called “Shitting Our Pants”.
His band is a rotating doors of musicians who come and go as they get fed up touring shit holes across America for barely any money. Thor insists in acting as his own agent, booking the tours himself with disastrous results. He name drops any celebrity he’s ever met, and acts as a legend in his own mind, but concert attendances seem to say otherwise.
The movie ends with a trip to Finland that finally sees the band play to decent crowds. But by this time Thor carries with him an impressive arsenal of medications to treat various illness: he’s clearly in no shape to be touring. But he can’t bring himself to stop chasing the spotlight he feels he’s deserved all these years.
They’re welcomed as heroes by the Finnish fans, and this leads one of the band members to tell the camera that this trip proves “I’ll be remembered”. The film never makes it clear if the band is taking the piss or if they’re a real life Spinal Tap. The Anvil movie had a number of well-known bona fide rock stars talking about their love of the band’s music. Here no one shows up to profess their worship of Thor, except for some fans who feel they can die now that they’ve seen his show, or that girl who has him autograph her butt so she can get it tattooed.
The movie never really offers a narrative thread. It just goes from one event to the other and often seems to aimlessly wander off. It never shies away from showing Thor in embarrassing situations, but stop short of asking the important question: How can he hope for success with crappy songs with juvenile lyrics and cardboard props?
A must see movie if you’re a fan of train wrecks. It’s available on Netflix.