This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 22 min.

Release Date: March 2nd, 1984 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Rob Reiner Actors: Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, R.J. Parnell, David Kaff, Harry Shearer, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher, Patrick MacNee




n a preface, commercial filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner, the actual director, playing an exaggerated version of himself) explains how, in 1966, he first heard the band Spinal Tap in Greenwich Village in New York. Their sound instantly redefined rock ‘n’ roll, leading to a considerable career, spanning 17 years and 15 albums. By 1982, having been universally renowned as one of England’s loudest bands, Spinal Tap began preparations for their first United States tour in several years to promote their newest album, “Smell the Glove.” This gave Marty the opportunity to journey with them, to shoot a rockumentary about the iconic group.

Once again returning to New York, the stage is set – or the stage is being set up – for David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) the lead guitarist; Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), also a lead guitarist; Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) the bassist; Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell) on the drum kit; and Vic Savage (David Kaff) playing keyboards. Complete with oversized, monstrous props, fog machines, and raving fans, Spinal Tap is destined for a successful tour kick-off. Marty’s camera even captures candid interviews with random onlookers, lining up to get into the big show.

From Polymer Records’ opening night party to limo rides across town to transitions between cities to recording industry conventions, this fake – yet largely convincing – documentary covers all of the expected areas of a rock band’s history. Cut together from numerous interviews, some chronicling the formation of the band and various partnerships and breakups (and unsolved deaths) that evolved into the current fivesome, others examining the lyrics and the key demographic, the lens tends to capture a striking realism amid the absurdist parody. This extends to one-on-one queries with professionals such as Ian Faith (Tony Hendra), the manager, who is deadly serious during heated yet moronic bungles. In some of the quieter, funnier moments, the subject becomes the snacks in the dressing room or a giant collection of guitars, none of which are plugged in or are plucked for a demonstration. Other sequences make use of archival footage and eavesdropping camerawork, also to dependable laughs, despite focusing quite sincerely on utter silliness.

Rife with problems, predicaments, malfunctions and technical difficulties on stage, financial issues, promotional shortcomings, and other faults and controversies, many of which contribute to canceled gigs and, eventually, an overall decline in the popularity of the band (or its potential downfall altogether), “This Is Spinal Tap” brilliantly maintains the utmost seriousness even as it embraces nonsense, deadpan sarcasm, and hilarious dilemmas. The band itself is engaging and authentically eccentric, while also surrounded by a supporting cast that comparably acts in total earnest. It’s here that bit parts by recognizable people appear, ranging from Fran Drescher to Patrick Macnee to Dana Carvey to Billy Crystal (each a bit of an unfortunate occurrence, as the realism is diminished with every known face).

As the film creates an unbelievably perfect send-up of rock ‘n’ roll music, the lifestyles, the relationships (business and otherwise), and the eclectic denizens of that larger-than-life world, there’s also the amusement of the music itself, which initially sounds real until the inanity of the lyrics becomes apparent – a juvenile, crass blend that works wonderfully with the daffiness of an amp that goes to 11 or an album cover that is entirely black or the band’s inability to locate the stage during an Ohio performance. Footage from their concerts and clips of their jamming are surprisingly genuine, even when they ultimately demonstrate additional deteriorations in technical elements. “You’re not as confused as him, are you?”

As the infighting grows, threatening to tear the band apart, the embarrassment escalates proportionally; the crowds and the enthusiasm wane, foreshadowing the end of an era. It’s alternately bittersweet and rousing, yet always believable (occasionally, it successfully hides the fact that it’s all a joke), paralleling the ups and downs of true-to-life groups of the genre while highlighting a cinematic, underlying stupidity. Historically and stereotypically, the sex and drugs take a toll on the brain. Either way, the hilariousness here is unending.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10