by Allan Fish
(USA 1984 83m) DVD1/2
This goes up to eleven
p Karen Murphy d Rob Reiner w/m/ly Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer ph Peter Smokler ed Robert Leighton art Dryan Jones
Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (David St Hubbins), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), Rob Reiner (Marty DiBergi), R.J.Parnell (Mick Shrimpton), David Kaff (Viv Savage), Tony Hendra (Ian Faith), Bruno Kirby (Tommy Pischeda), Fran Drescher (Bobbi Flekman), Anjelica Huston, Ed Begley Jnr, Billy Crystal, Patrick MacNee,
Rob Reiner’s spoof rockumentary of an ageing British rock band on tour in the US at the twilight of their careers truly was one of the most original films of its decade. Here was a film that finally, deservedly attacked and made fun of that most pretentious of musical art forms, the heavy metal rock band, in this case the fictitious Spinal Tap, one of England’s loudest bands behind such ‘classic’ albums as Intravenus de Milo, Shark Sandwich and The Gospel According to Spinal Tap, the latter prompting one reviewer to say that if God rested on one day why did he not rest the day he made Spinal Tap? Thank God he didn’t, because the world would be a far less funny place without them.
Spinal Tap, a British rock group founded in the mid sixties, consists of three core members, guitarist and singer David St Hubbins, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel and bass guitarist Derek Smalls. They are legends in their own imagination, feted through the known world for such songs as ‘Hell Hole’ and ‘Big Bottom’. Commercial director Marty DiBergi – who on first hearing them was “knocked out by their exuberance, their raw power and their punctuality” – records the behind the scenes happenings and gigs and interviews the band members as they embark on their first US tour in six years.
There are scenes here that will stay with you for life; the group emerging from pods only for Derek’s pod to not open until the song is over; the hilarious Stonehenge number when an eighteen inch model is created rather than an eighteen foot model and leprechauns dance round it; the hilarious first glimpses of the ‘Smell the Glove’ album, released in a blank black cover; the promotional signing where no-one turns up; the descriptions of how the Spinal Tap drummers met their ends – one in an unclassified gardening accident, one choking on someone else’s vomit, and another spontaneously combusting on stage; the band failing to find their way from their dressing room to the stage; Derek being stopped and searched with a cucumber down his pants; and of course the truly awful song renditions. These are men of talentless myth, tragic in their truly side-splitting and infantile pretension to art. Nigel says he’s a follower of Bach and Mozart and calls his tuneless twaddle “Mach”, David compares the end of the band to the end of the universe, Derek says he’d work with children if not in rock. As David says, “it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever” and that sums up the whole shebang. Yet to say that Tap only has digs at the ageing rockers past their sell-by date is missing part of the point. It also attacks the hangers on and cult followers of such bands and shows that they are partly responsible. After all, Tap’s one-time popularity isn’t down to them but those who bought the records and the most pretentious and vacant lines in the film are delivered by some of the interviewed fans in the opening montage.
Tap’s success as a film is down to many factors, but the performances of McKean, Guest and Shearer as the core members are so spot-on as to be uncanny, especially considering their not being British (Guest in particular is a joy as the incredibly dim Nigel, with his extra power amplifiers and bone structure T-shirts). Yet equally important are their musical contributions as the truly trite and sexist lyrics are uncannily reminiscent of so many bands of their ilk. Even the cameos are spot-on, with Fran Drescher a delight and Patrick MacNee (was his appearance in Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ video a homage?) and Anjelica Huston popping up, too. It also gets one of the best DVD treatments, including a commentary from the actors in character. Altogether now, “black, lovely colour.”
How This is Spinal Tap made the Top 100:
Dean Treadway No. 5
Bill Riley No. 11
Jon Warner No. 12
Maurizio Roca No. 40
Steve Mullen (Weeping Sam) No. 48
Dennis Polifroni No. 54