I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap. It is one of my favorite comedies of all time, which I say that with no hesitation as writers/actors Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean were able to create a film that had so many layers of comedy. It is subtle and clever. It is obvious and sometimes juvenile. It is patient and rewarding. And it is brilliant, always brilliant.
As one of the first mockumentaries (a comedy filmed like a documentary to make fun of documentaries) to truly popularize the genre, This is Spinal Tap follows documentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) as he tracks an old favorite rock band Spinal Tap on their first tour in 6 years. The band consists of lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). The tour goes exactly how you would expect for an aging rock band past their prime trying their hardest to hold onto the fraction of their former fame. There are cancelled tour dates (“It’s OK, Boston isn’t a big school town”), scandalous album covers, mix-ups with hotel bookings, a useless road manager, and even fights that threaten to break up the band. The result is a hilarious day-by-day look into a not-so-intelligent but nevertheless passionate group of rock stars.
It’s fair to say that This Is Spinal Tap is near the top of the Most Quoted Movies list. There are a massive amount of one-liners from all band members that are sure to keep you giggling throughout the whole movie. “It’s like, how much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black.” “He died in a bizarre gardening accident.” “I think the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.” Not to mention the entire back and forth between Marty and Nigel regarding the amps going up to 11. The best thing about all of this amazing writing is that the majority of it was improvised by Reiner, McKean, Guest and Shearer — even the music. In fact, when you check out the bonus material on the DVD or Blu-ray, there are hours of extra footage that didn’t get added to the film. While you’re checking that bonus material, listen to the commentary. McKean, Guest and Shearer reprise their characters on the track, and end up doing a commentary that basically blames the entire crew for showing them in a negative light. They blame Marty for using hidden camera footage and make fun of each other. It is absolutely hilarious.
What makes This Is Spinal Tap work so well not just as a mockumentary, but as a showcase for a legit 80’s hair band, is that they are so believable in their roles. The band members honestly believe that they are big rock stars. It takes the material from being a cheesy spoof to an endearing story about a band that, despite their terrible music and low IQ, you can’t help but love. Their music is catchy and legitimately sounds like a real 80’s band, so much so that after the movie came out, McKean, Guest and Shearer took their act on the road. They even made a couple of music videos, and one made it onto MTV. Seriously, the music videos are awesome. Check out this one for Bitch School.
McKean, Guest, Shearer and even Reiner embody their roles. The latter does a pretty great job of playing an awkward fanboy and brand new director. His opening for the movie is hilariously embarrassing and completely believable. Not to be overshadowed are the many short guest appearances from today’s big stars. Billy Crystal plays a mime waiter, Bruno Kirby is a limo driver, Fran Drescher plays a studio exec and Angelica Huston is the great artist of Stonehenge. They all add their unique bit of comedic flair to an already hilarious movie.
Christopher Guest enjoyed the mockumentary genre he helped popularize so much he would venture down that avenue thrice more with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and Mascots. Although I have just seen Best in Show and Mascots (Waiting For Guffman is part of this challenge), it is difficult to think that anything could quite capture the perfect mix of comedy and satire like This Is Spinal Tap. When I was taking notes while watching This Is Spinal Tap, I realized that I can’t think of a single flaw in the film. It has always hovered just outside of the Top 20 on my Flickchart, and this realization made me believe that I should reconsider its position. If you are a fan of comedy, satire, music or mockumentaries, you will be a fan of This Is Spinal Tap. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
This Is Spinal Tap landed at #13 out of a possible 1344 movies on my Flickchart. That converts to a rating of 5 out of 5 stars or 99%. It is ranked #3 out of 141 movies I have seen from the 1980’s. It is ranked #1 out of 7 movies I have seen so far in this challenge.