This is Spinal Tap

Year 1984

Rob Reiner as  Marty DiBergi
Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins
Christopher Guest  as Nigel Tufnel
Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls
Tony Hendra as Ian Faith
R.J. Parnell as Mick Shrimpton
Director - Rob Reiner
Screenwriters - Rob Reiner  
    Christopher Guest  
    Michael McKean
    Harry Shearer

This is one of those movies that everyone quotes, even if they haven't seen it. More often than not, these people don't even realize that this is movie they're quoting. It's that kind of icon.

So, what's it about? A fictional British rock and roll group named "Spinal Tap" has been around seventeen years. They've started to slip in popularity, so they're embarking on a U.S. tour to coincide with the release of their sixteenth album. To commemorate the event, the tour is going to be captured on film and turned into a "rockumentary" by Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner).

The three musicians that make up Spinal Tap (David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer)) aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. Their director/historian DiBergi is a part time fan but he's also motivated by the future money that he hopes the rockumentary will generate.

On the tour, everything that can go wrong, does. The cover of the new album is lurid and sexist, so it won't be released. Malfunctioning props sabotage shows. Derek Smalls is going through a divorce. A groupie becomes a girlfriend and further tears the band apart. Performance engagements get cancelled. And through it all, if a distaster doesn't affect them immediately, the shallow block heads of Spinal Tap are oblivious to what's going on around them.

Sound like fun? I have to admit that sometimes the movie became more of a sad treatise on a downward spiral than a comedy and I found portions of the movie a bit depressing. Even the Boston concert cancellation, which is a quote below, came off as more pitiable than funny.

If you remember that it's a mockumentary, you have to expect it to drag...I guess. But even though it clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes, it seemed much longer.

Hey! This is supposed to be a comedy, so lighten up! After all, a lot of the bits are funny. Have you ever talked to someone who wanted something badly and, after all of their reasonable arguments fell flat, their only recourse was to say something like, "But this one goes to eleven"? Here's where that excuse came from.

Nigel showing off his amps: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty: I don't know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff... You know what we do?
Marty: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Bobbi Flekman: Money talks and bullshit walks.

Nigel Tufnel: You can't really dust for vomit.

David St. Hubbins: It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.

David St. Hubbins: Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation.

Ian Faith: The Boston gig has been cancelled.
David St. Hubbins: What?
Ian Faith: Yeah. I wouldn't worry about it though. It's not a big college town.

After hearing the melody to a particularly moving piece of music composed by Nigel.
Marty DiBergi:
What do you call this?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, this piece is called "Lick My Love Pump".

The last is a nice seque into the songs. If you remember that the group lasted for sixteen years and this movie came out in 1984, that meant that the group was popular from the late 1960s onward. Music went through a lot of changes during that time and this satire captures each phase's growth in music perfectly with a rendition of Spinal Tap's "big hit" from each phase.

From the flower child sixties to the emerging heavy metal of the early seventies, to the over produced technocrap of the late seventies, to the hair band attitude of the early eighties, the songs in the movie are wonderful. A mere listing of the sound track gives an idea of their sharp parody edges.

All of the songs are performed during the movie. Some, like "Big Bottom" and "Hell Hole" in their entirety. When the performances take place on stage, anything can happen. In a send-up of the group "Styx", Spinal Tap begins a song while inside of plastic pods. The pods are supposed to open, but one doesn't so the concert is performed with the one individual stuck inside a clear cocoon.

Another scene, the one that everyone who's seen the movie remembers, is the debut performance of their song "Stonehenge". I hope I'm giving nothing away when I say that the intended replication of one of the arches at Stonehenge was dwarfed by an on-stage performance.

To summarize, the movie has individual scenes that are pretty darned funny. But, the plight of the luckless, pitiable protagonists tempers the humor and makes the movie drag. The songs are inspired and each captures not only the sound but the "poetry" of the phase of rock and roll it represents.

So why is this movie under the banner of a more than once viewing choice? Well, for the extras. You have to watch the movie once without the commentary to get most of the little jokes. But, then, you have to watch the movie again with the commentary turned on. On DVDs in general, commentary isn't always a good thing. But this one is clever and well done.

The boys from Spinal Tap remain in character through the commentary and offer insight into the fictional making of the fictional documentary. Their target throughout is the director. The boys blame him and the original rockumentary for ruining their careers. It's a great, original premise. The ad hoc seeming commentary is funnier than the original movie.

So that's why this is a more than once viewing choice. It's above average, does a nearly flawless job of parodying rock and roll bands, and is usually entertaining. This movie set a standard for "mockumentary" type films pioneered by Albert Brooks ("Real Life") and others.

A couple of side notes... One, it's one of those movies that, even if you're second guessing why you're watching it while you're watching it, you'll be glad you did after it's over. It's one of those movies that grows on you as you remember different scenes at the oddest times.

The second thing is Michael McKean. He was "Lenny" from "Laverne and Shirley" and the only one who made an acting name for himself after that show was over. Penny Marshall may have directed and produced some good movies, but Michael McKean is still visible as a versatile entertainer.

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