For the next review today of This is Spinal Tap (1984), here’s a review by Niall of Raging Fluff.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
This is Spinal Tap has so many great jokes, it’s impossible to pick a favourite. “These go to eleven.” “He died in a bizarre gardening accident.” “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” “How much more black can this be? The answer is none. None more black.” The band getting lost in the bowels of the theatre on the way to the stage. The ridiculous mini Stonehenge. And of course the cover of Smell the Glove. (“What’s wrong with being sexy?”)
I think Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap might have been the first feature mock documentary; it’s certainly one of the most influential – you can see its deadpan style and ironic editing technique in The Office, The Thick of It, Parks and Recreation, etc, as well of course on Christopher Guest’s follow-ups like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Reiner’s film is a hilarious send-up of the rock n’ roll documentary, in particular Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz. Playing Marty DiBergi, the bearded, ballcap-wearing director, Reiner follows heavy metal group Spinal Tap (“England’s loudest band” whose members all have brilliant names: Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls) on their U.S. Tour (it’s a rather sad tour of mid-sized towns and tiny arenas). The trio are played by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Their much-harried manager Ian Faith is played by Tony Hendra.
I think one of the reasons why it works is that it’s very good not just on the excesses and pretensions of the music industry and its associated hangers-on (publicity types, record label reps, groupies, the Yoko Onoish girlfriend), but it’s also spot on about a very particular breed of English long-haired, lycra-wearing heavy rock band, a type that was once far more popular than today. (it’s as much a piss-take of bands like Def Leppard and Saxon as anything else, and it has some very funny flashbacks to the musicians’ early incarnation as a bunch of British Invasion Beatles-types).
Guest’s father is English (a peer, actually). Perhaps because McKean, Shearer and Reiner are American and Guest is half-English, they were able to put together a film about an across the Pond culture clash that actually works very well. Guest and Shearer cut their comedy teeth on Saturday Night Live, and fellow SNL alumni Billy Crystal and Paul Shaffer make appearances, as does future SNL cast-member Dana Carvey. There are also cameos by Fran Drescher, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Patrick MacNee, Fred Willard, Harry Hesseman, and Anjelica Huston.
And of course it has some very good songs. The very funny screenplay is by Reiner, Guest, McKean and Shearer. The movie celebrated its 30th anniversary last year; the band is still going strong, although of course they have a new drummer.