Film and Documentary

This is Spinal Tap: A Retro Review

The mockumentary,” This Is Spinal Tap, is considered to be one of the funniest movies ever made. While it’s about a lot of obscure, abstract things, the main thing is the way the real story is not in the questions or the answers, but what is continuously and hilariously occurring in the background.

The movie stars Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins. Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel, and Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls. Drummer Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell) supplies percussion on borrowed time as both the previous drummers died mysteriously. One spontaneously combusted, and another choked to death on vomit, “but not his own vomit.”  

I think we feel such affection for the members of Spinal Tap because they are so touchingly naive and optimistic. Intoxicated by the sheer fun of being rock stars, they continue to perform long after their sell-by date, to smaller audiences, for less money, but still seeking the adulation and applause.

Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner), is the dogged documentarian who follows Spinal Tap’s first U.S. tour in six years. He hilariously tells the band he was first attracted to them by their “unusual loudness.” There are all kinds of cockups, including a road manager who can’t get anything right, a publicist who can never really explain why their record isn’t in stores, and an advance man who fails to provide a single fan for a meet & greet. Nigel’s secret attraction to David becomes more readily apparent when Nigel learns that David’s girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) is flying over from England to join the tour. David is completely oblivious, of course.

Most hilarious is the scene where they decide to have a large replica of Stonehenge to drop down on stage during the song of the same name. When giving the instructions to the creator of the piece, Nigel writes down all the measurements down in inches (18” instead of 18’) instead of feet. The result is a very miniscule version of Stonehenge that the druids have to dance around after it’s lowered to the stage, much to the band’s apparent consternation.

Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner wrote the screenplay themselves, benefitting from improvisational rehearsals, and they also wrote all the songs, some of which, like “Sex Farm,” became popular. Some of the song names, like “Lick My Love Pump,” are simply hilarious, and very apt for this witty, wacky film.

Personally, I thought this film was funnier the first 20 times I viewed it. Yes, I watched it at least 20 times before. However, in my defense, I think I was a little inebriated while watching all those prior times. While it was amusing to watch it sober, it didn’t pack quite the same punch. The jokes seemed to fall a little short, the antics seemed more staged. I just don’t feel it held up quite as well. Perhaps I’m just more jaded now?

Whatever the reasons, I still would recommend this film. It’s amusing enough to hold its own, even nearly 40 years after its 1984 release. It’s definitely earned the “cult-classic” moniker.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]