Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie – This is Spinal Tap (1984)

This is Spinal Tap is a fake documentary about a British rock band’s ill-fated tour of the United States.  It is often credited with creating the mockumentary genre.  It is eminently quotable (“These go to 11”), has a number of scenes that have become part of pop culture (i.e. getting lost backstage), and is a favorite among the very musicians that it is making fun of.

Rob Reiner directs and plays the role of documentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi in the movie.  The members of Spinal Tap are David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer.)  One plays bass, a second plays the other bass, and the third plays lead bass.  There is no permanent drummer.  One of the running jokes is that the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer is measured in months, or even days.  (“Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year.  It’s just not really widely reported.”)

The type of performances that Spinal Tap does are a joke on the over the top theatrical shows that many acts were doing at the time, especially ones that had been around for a while.  For instance, they one-up Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who famously used a violin bow on his electric guitar, by using an actual violin on their guitars.

The types of songs they do are best characterized by their hit Big Bottom (“Big bottom, big bottom/ talk about mud flaps, my girl’s got ‘em!”)

As I mentioned, the tour is ill-fated.  They lose another drummer.  Stage shows don’t go as planned.  Tour dates get cancelled.  And all of it gets captured for the documentary.

The commentary track is done by the three band members as if they are looking back on these events.  They’re not thrilled with how the “documentarian” made them look.  You can tell what you’re in for on the commentary with the very first line.  Before anything for the movie has come up yet, and the screen is still black, one of them says, “It’s like the night sky without stars, you know?”

The movie was so popular that it actually spawned real Spinal Tap albums with titles such as Break Like the Wind and Back from the Dead.  The various actors have also shown up as their characters in any number of other movies, shows, and comedy sketches.

This is one of those movies that even if you think it might not be for you, you should still see it simply because it is such a part of pop culture history.  I highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

           DVD                      Blu-ray

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