This Is Spinal Tap

Bottom Line: A riotous hoot that puts laughter up to 11.

“Put it up to eleven.” –Rob Reiner as Marty DiBergi
“Eleven. Exactly. One louder.” –Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel
“Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?” –Rob Reiner as Marty DiBergi
“[pause] These go to eleven.” –Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel

Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Bruno Kirby, Christopher Guest, Danny Kortchmar, David Kaff, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, R.J. Parnell, Rob Reiner, Tony Hendra

Massively amusing mockumentary–sorry, I meant “rockumentary”–ridicules rock n’ roll culture with the story of a dysfunctional UK band, Spinal Tap. The opening scene depicts a fictional documentarian expressing how his mind was utterly blown by this band, so we have our expectations set high for the rest of the film. Feeling no need to be gradual in its change, absurd comedy completely subverts our expectations by heavily satirizing what has often plagued other bands, as well as concocting its own absurd routes.

The best part of THIS IS SPINAL TAP is the music. Listen to the instrumental music and it sounds great (with a notable exception being “Stonehenge”). The music channels that of bands such as KISS and Iron Maiden, with rough guitar riffs and fast solos. What provides the comedic effect are the lyrics to these songs. It’s like listening to Weird Al Yankovic in a hard rock group. What else provides a great comedic effect is how inept this band is. They have had a history of band members dying from very, very bizarre circumstances, such as “spontaneous human combustion” and choking on an unknown other person’s vomit. But there’s one scene, in particular, that defines this description of them. This scene involves the band in attempt to emerge from blue, cocoon-like enclosures, one after the other, for their stage performance. The guitarist and lead vocalist emerge successfully, and they perform the entire song without knowing that behind them, their manager is struggling to get the bassist out of his cocoon, by even trying to burn and hammer it open.

“Money talks, and bulls–t walks.” –Fran Drescher as Bobbi Flekman

THIS IS SPINAL TAP uses a documentary-like structure to poke fun at the wild behavior of such musicians, but it is in no way a documentary. Strangely enough, it feels every bit like one, and clearly it was made to look essentially like one. The film was shot on a $2.5 million budget by Rob Reiner at initially well over five hours (before being cut down to less than eighty minutes), which often happens with many factual cinematic works. Somehow, it feels even more like a comedy, which it is, without a doubt. I wouldn’t even dare to say this is a comedy meant for those who would categorize themselves in the strictly music demographic; this doesn’t require a heavy musical vocabulary. Turn it up to 11 and watch it.

Postscript: I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it a bit amusing that “spinal tap” is actually a medical procedure. What a perfect name for a heavy metal band. Even better than ‘Anthrax’, in my opinion.

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7 thoughts on “This Is Spinal Tap

    • I agree, Rob Reiner’s career has gone downhill since the eighties. He started his career with films like Spinal Tap, Princess Bride, and Stand by Me, and now it’s hard to recognize his name anymore. But this is really more of a Christopher Guest film, actually. With films like Waiting for Guffman and For Your Consideration, he’s one of the best known…”mockumentarians”. I do plan on seeing Borat at some point, so thanks for reminding me about that.

  1. You really captured what makes this “rockumentary” so great. You always remind me of films I’d like to re-watch. I haven’t seen this in years.and your review sparked my desire to revisit this.

    One detail. Sorry to be persnickety but Poison hadn’t even released their first album and Metallica were still struggling in obscurity at this point. The film was more inspired by bands like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Kiss. A minor detail but those anachronisms stuck out to me.

    Great review!

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