This Is Spinal Tap Reviews
Spinal Tap, the world's loudest band, is chronicled by hack documentarian Marty DeBergi on what proves to be a fateful tour.
The soundtrack itself is stand alone (satirical) brilliance, before we even delve into the mockumentary of the fictitious British band whose speakers are so loud, they go to eleven. Reiner's documentary style film follows the band on its tour of the USA, as they traverse the country playing to half empty houses, experiencing myriad crises (e.g. band members leaving, shows being cancelled) and minor debacles (e.g. the appetisers and set work). Their struggle to deliver a unique brand despite the critics scorn is nothing short of heroic.
The principal trio (McKean, Guest and Shearer) are pitch perfect as no-brain rockers with dim ideas and infantile (yet still potent) lyrics ("big bottom, big bottom, talk about mud flaps my girl's got 'em"), led around by their faithful manager (Hendra) enduring every ignominy a touring band could experience from getting lost en route to the stage via the green room to the bass player becoming locked inside a cocoon as part of an act. Director Reiner plays the band's documenter, Patrick MacNee has a cameo as a promoter and Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr, Howard Hesseman and Paul Schaefer all have bit parts.
The documentary style filmmaking, mostly handheld, makes it look even more realistic, and makes the band's antics that much more amusing. The film's slim plot is punctuated by interviews with individual band members (some of the funniest parts of the movie), as well as music videos and live performances of the band's god-awful music. No matter how bad their reputation or their sales or their popularity is, they just keep pressing on, assuming that things will pick up soon, and it is an endless source of amusement watching them rationalize their dropping success rate and coming up with reasons that the band should stay together. This is not Oscar winning material. Not by a long shot. None of the actors in the film were well known when it was made, nor are any of them famous today, but the uniqueness and effectiveness of the comedy and of the film as a whole make it worth while. Fans of all kinds of music, not just metal, can enjoy this very funny comedy.
There are moments when it is impossible to tell that this isn't about a real band; the acting, direction, and dialogue is that convincing. The style of the film is oft-copied by Christopher Guest in his later work, which is often brilliant and hilarious, but This Is Spinal Tap started it all. Though there are some scenes, like the Stonehenge bit, Derek getting trapped in the cocoon, and the predictable exit of Ian, that seem too perfectly engineered to fit a plot arc, there is nonetheless an inimitable organic feel to this film.
Overall, This Is Spinal Tap has some funny moments, but most of all, watching it is like watching the birth of a productive genre.
The cult status that Spinal Tap has enjoyed for so long is evident by how many of its lines have entered into our everyday lexicon. Whenever a TV presenter talks about the effort levels of sportsmen or the atmosphere at a gig, you can put your house on the phrase "turned up to 11" being in there somewhere. Nigel Tufnell's remark about there being "a fine line between stupid and clever" is frequently used by reviewers, particularly when reviewing comedies. Even lesser lines, about D Minor being "the saddest of all keys" and Tufnell's comments about the album cover ("How much more black could it be?... None more black") have become instantly recognisable.
From a filmmaking point of view, Spinal Tap is an editing masterclass. Where subsequent spoofs like Wayne's World were constructed from a script, Reiner's was created out of dozens of hours of improvisation in front of camera. The cast and Reiner filmed themselves, keeping the cameras rolling to capture anything interesting or funny that came out. Reiner then edited down this mountain of footage to a lean, taut running time of 82 minutes (a 4 1/2-hour bootleg also exists, and some die-hard fans would hold this to be the proper version).
As well as demonstrating Reiner's directorial discipline, there are two positive side effects to this approach. Because the cameras were rolling pretty much all the time, there is never any sense of the jokes being staged or choreographed. The humour flows freely - so freely in fact that you may not pick up on every joke the first time round. The other positive side effect lies in the camerawork. Because no-one ever knew where the next joke would be coming from, the crew had to be on their toes and get close to the actors. There is an intimacy to Spinal Tap which you don't get either in Wayne's World or in earlier efforts like The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.
The secret of Spinal Tap's success as a mockumentary is the balance between naturalism and absurdity. Even though what the band are doing is clearly pompous, preposterous and egomaniacal in the extreme, they feel like real people rather than puppets of a didactic director. The intimacy of the camerawork, coupled with the comic timing of the performers, gives the impression that everyone involved on camera believes in the stories the characters are telling and the music they are playing.
Unlike The Rutles, where Eric Idle was constantly winking at the audience, there is never a moment where the performers break the fourth wall and try to bring the audience in on the joke. Even when Rob Reiner appears on screen as the 'director' of the 'film', the perfect little bubble surrounding the characters is never punctured. The performers are confident enough in their abilities and the strength of the material that the audience will pick up on the joke, rather than being told that it's a joke. Ultimately this wasn't entirely the case, with early audiences believing that the band was real, and with Spinal Tap eventually going out on the road as a bona fide rock band.
Spinal Tap is a satire on heavy metal and the rock industry as it was in the 1980s. It shows how the trends in 1980s metal that we recognise had grown out of both the more pompous, self-absorbed end of prog rock and the harsher side of glam. The long hair, guitar-shredding, lengthy solos and elaborate entrances successfully convey how bloated and theatrical big-bucks rock music has become. The levels of ego and stupidity present on the tour for Smell the Glove are enough to send anyone running to buy up The Smiths' back catalogue.
The film is replete with references to rock stars and iconic rock images. The blank black cover to Smell the Glove (put out as a compromise with the record company) is a nod to both The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) and the external, 'bin-liner' cover of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. There are further Beatles references in the character of Jeanine: she is the Yoko Ono who comes in and breaks up the group, turning the song-writing pair against each other through her peculiar artsy taste.
The musical numbers in Spinal Tap are brilliantly smart send-ups of songs from the era, with no genre from the 1970s and 1980s being left unscathed. 'Stonehenge' is a welcome piss-take of Yes with their hugely ambitious sets, while 'Jazz Odyssey' looks towards the noodling of Stanley Clarke's 'Dream Suite' or King Crimson's 'Moonchild'. The performances combine the tongue-poking of Kiss with the schoolboy cheek of AC/DC, and because all the performers are playing their own instruments (another plus over The Rutles), we really believe someone could genuinely be stupid enough to not only write these songs but play them with passion.
Although the satire in Spinal Tap is clear, it is also deeply affectionate. This is demonstrated not just by the musicianship of the actors, but the amount of effort that clearly went into writing these songs in the first place. Had they gone the easy way, writing 'so-bad-they're-bad' songs to get cheap, mean-spirited laughs, the gag would have worn off in 5 minutes and we wouldn't care about the men behind the egos. The fact that Spinal Tap went on to have a legitimate pop career is testament to this effort - they knew how to write so-bad-they're-good songs and play them with a straight face (well, sort of).
The film also delves into other issues surrounding rock and roll. The band's arguments with their manager, akin to those which inspired the Queen song 'Death On Two Legs', tap into claims about the record industry ruining the creativity of artists by their desire for commercial success. The arguments over Smell the Glove find their incompetent manager Ian Faith trying to persuade the band that the change from their intended cover is in fact a bold artistic choice. The theme of artistic mismanagement continues in promoter Artie Fufkin, a possible reference to Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy.
There are also discussions raised about whether it is possible to be a rock star in your 40s, the homoerotic undertones of rock (Tap play largely to young male audiences), and whether being 'big in Japan' is no bad thing. But outside of its acerbic observations about rock, the film is also a convincing piss-take of the rock doc format. Some of the best scenes in This Is Spinal Tap are its recreations of earlier periods of music, akin to The Rutles' reimagining of The Ed Sullivan Show. The performance of Spinal Tap's early hit, 'Listen To The Flower People', perfectly recreates the kind of TV performances The Beatles and The Who used to do, with the band on different levels on the stage and random dancers alongside for no reason.
This Is Spinal Tap remains one of the funniest films of the 1980s and the peak of Rob Reiner's much-lauded career. It takes a little while to get going, and the romantic twist at the end may seem contrived to some, but the vast majority of the charm and the humour remains intact. The Stonehenge sequence in particular, with an 18-inch model descending behind Nigel Tufnell, will still have you in hysterics. When everything is said and done, it still stands as the definitive mockumentary of this and any era, and as far as Reiner is concerned, there's none more funny.
This Is Spinal Tap tells the outlandishly hilarious story of the legendary band "Spinal Tap", showing their highs and lows throughout their career!
Even though the band was originally fictional, this film made Spinal Tap become a real band, releasing a couple of albums featuring some of their best loved songs! What you will find in this hour and a half spectacle are some amazing moments of hilarity, references to previous events in rock history, and classic lines that you will remember vividly!
For example, the lead guitarist is showing the interviewer their amps, and points out that they all go up to 11, so if they need an extra push they can go there.
"Why not just make 10 louder?"
"...Cos it's not 11! 11 makes it better!"
"But you could just have 10 louder and you wouldn't need 11."
"...But it's not 11!"
Old or young, this film can be treasured as one of the best British comedies of the 80's, and will most certainly be one of the best mockumentaries of all time...
"Does for Rock and Roll what "Sound of Music" did for hills."
This Is Spinal Tap is the best mocumentary ever made. If you are a fan of rock and or metal, there is absolutely no way you can't love everything about Spinal Tap. Although the entire movie is hilarious; there are three or four sequences that will have you practically gasping for air they are so funny. Christopher Guest as Nigel is spot on perfect. Guest is the king of the mocumentary. He's directed such classics as Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show. Rob Reiner directed this and the writing team of him, Guest, McKean and Shearer make one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.
I've seen many interviews with real rockstars, who said that it's almost scary watching Spinal Tap because of spot on it is at summing up the rock and roll scene. From the scene where Nigel is complaining about the food backstage to the band getting lost while trying to make their way onstage. It's all a realistic portrayal of what goes on during a tour.
I love every minute of Spinal Tap and I wish it was I little longer. It doesn't get old like a lot mocumentaries do after 45 minutes to an hour. It all stays fresh and really holds up after a couple of decades pretty well.
Mick Shrimpton: As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.