“This is Spinal Tap” is a documentary that follows the 1982 tour of the “world’s loudest band” Spinal Tap, chronicled by a commercials director Marty DiBergi and it primarily focuses on the band members: David St. Hubbins who is the main vocals and rhythm guitar, Nigel Tufnel on lead guitar and Derek Smalls on the bass. It also consists primarily of concert footage that is mixed in with backstage drama, as well as interviews with the band members and the people around them.
And of course it is all fake since this “rockumentary” is a mockumentary, it is actually one of the most popular films of this type. “This is Spinal Tap” is also a very understated comedy in the form of a razor sharp satire that portrays the popular music scene in a way which might very well seem over the top for certain viewers. But it will start seeming very tame if compared to the experiences of real bands from this “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” era of the music industry.
The main sources of comedy are of course the band members of “The Tap”, played by Christopher Guest, Michael McKeen and Harry Shearer. They not only play three very unique (or better said uniquely daft) individuals who as a band they take themselves way too serious which results in much awkward and absurd comedy. And then there’s also the amazing music. I swear most of these songs could easily pass off as serious music from the time, but in this mockumentary framing their absurdity is brought out with the hilariously sexualized lyrics and the ridiculous stage performances and scenery.
There is immense craft in this film that is mostly the actors’ doing, because they are actually performing all their songs, as well as improvising their dialogue; giving the film a very naturalistic feeling despite the absurdity of the situations that they find themselves in. Director Rob Reiner (who also plays the hack director DiBegi) has made the best possible choices for his film with this, because if the acting was not this organic and sincere the effect of the film would be nullified.
This style of filmmaking actually gives the film a very deceptive realism, and moviegoers who have seen the film at the time are a testament to this as quite a few believed that Spinal Tap was a real band after watching the film. Furthermore many real musicians did not find the film funny at all, stating that they very much identified with the situations and the characters on the screen. And it is clear why, because a lot of the gags and jokes from the film have roots in the wild stories from the music business.
After failing at the box office “This is Spinal Tap” found a huge following on video and DVD and is now considered a cult classic, and one of the finest American comedies of the 80’s. It is obviously a very fun and accessible film although its understated humor might be a bit too low key for some modern viewers. For me this is one of the best rock and roll movies out there as it completely encapsulates the rebellious spirit of the movement and gloriously exploits its more juvenile tendencies.
Michael McKean - David St. Hubbins
Christopher Guest - Nigel Tufnel
Harry Shearer - Derek Smalls
Rob Reiner - Marty DiBergi
Tony Hendra - Ian Faith
This is Spinal Tap on IMDb