On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

This Is Spinal Tap


spinal tap

1984/ USA

Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: David Guest, Mike McKean, Harry Shearer


Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner), a filmmaker specialising in commercials goes on the road to make a documentary with veteran British rockers Spinal Tap; fronted by David St. Hubbins (McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Guest) and Derek Smalls (Shearer). In the midst of the 1982 North American tour, which quickly unravels in cancelled gigs, controlling girlfriends and undersized pieces of scenery, showing a band lost in their own egos and mediocrity circling the plug hole.

Though his directorial career has never truly recovered from his 1994 blunder, North, Rob Reiner was at his best a true master of romantic comedies. His feature When Harry Met Sally (1989) may have helped forge the template rom-coms would follow for the next several years, The Princess Bride (1987) also juggled comedy and romance, with romance being in both the modern and classical sense. Even his 1990 film Misery could be interpreted as a VERY dark romantic comedy but This Is Spinal Tap is his original love story and his best. A tale of homoeroticism and guitar solos.

Obviously, there’s more to This Is Spinal Tap than just this, but the devil is in the detail (and the songs). This Is Spinal Tap is a brilliant comedy, with some of the most extraordinary and spontaneous comedic skill ever to hit the silver screen. It’s also not too far from the truth. Getting lost on the way to the stage, playing embarrassing support slots at gigs and problems with stage scenery are all problems that have happened to real bands. The release of the Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster twenty years later provided evidence for that.

Rock and metal bands were (and probably still are, by and large) prone to excesses and cluelessness and with Spinal Tap we’re given a group of magnetic leading characters. They’re flawed. They’re childish, arrogant and whilst they do have genuine talent, their egos still outweigh the limits of that talent. Yet they’re engagingly realistic, backed up by the faux-documentary format, and for all their childishness, they’re never truly malicious making them laughable but not unsympathetic.

The documentary genre itself also gets a fair pasting. The film follows the same conventions and shortcomings of your standard rock-docs adding to the authenticity. Like the band itself, the quality of production is intentionally imperfect rather than all-out bad. Marti DiBergi (a not very well-concealed take on director Martin Scorsese, who made his own rock-doc with 1978’s The Last Waltz about The Band) is a man with an interest in the band but no real insight of his own. Not much of a character, but that’s the point. He simply adds to the ensemble of incompetents.

However, This Is Spinal Tap is a film of (intentionally) flawed genius. Leading man Christopher Guest would follow on down the line directing and acting in a series of mockumenteries in a similar vein featuring fellow Tappers Michael McKean and Harry Shearer and whilst the likes of Best In Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003) have their definite strengths, This Is Spinal Tap is truly on the eleventh level, where most comedies only go up to ten.

But enough of my yakkin’. Let’s boogie!

– Benjamin Halford


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This entry was posted on April 18, 2014 by in Classic Release.
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