“As long as there’s, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.”
There are films that are important for their poignant social commentary or for best exemplifying a movement or an era. There are also movies that are important for being very good at making people laugh. Very rarely does a film come along that accomplishes all of these things, and This Is Spinal Tap is one of those rare incidents. By documenting the North American tour of fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner is able to craft a smart critique of heavy metal culture while also touching on the music industry itself and the hackneyed nature of mainstream documentaries.
For those unaware, Spinal Tap is an English rock group that made a major splash with their 1982 American tour, promoting their new album Smell the Glove. The genius in the film is that this synopsis actually sounds plausible. The parody doesn’t go so extreme as to be a movie making fun of silly characters. Instead, it manages to hit close to home by strongly imitating real rock bands, bringing Spinal Tap into a realm of comedy gold, mainly because it feels so real. Every stupid thing these guys do is probably something that has really happened.
The production for the film is a fascinating one. Director Ron Reiner, who plays the Spinal Tap documentarian Di Bergi, collected over 12 hours of footage and edited it all down to just under 90 minutes for the final product. The film is primarily improvised by the 3 primary actors and Reiner, who are all credited as writers. There’s a great comedic style that everyone picks up on – the pompous British rock star living the rock and roll dream. It’s a strong ensemble that knows what’s funny.
Comedies tend to be more divisive with audiences as sense of humor varies from person to person. I’ll say that the jokes often didn’t land for me, but the film has some universally hilarious moments that any viewer will enjoy. The famous scene in which Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest) explains to the documentarian that his amps all go up to eleven is one of my favorite comedic bits in any film. These are the moments that really sell it for me – when these guys just can’t comprehend common sense. Even better is that the band members are all on the same level of stupidity; they understand each other perfectly and live in the same world of stupid. It’s a genius setup that I fell is at the core of the film’s biggest laughs.
Past just a great time, the film has had serious impact into the world of rock and roll. Many famous musicians list the film among their favorites and see themselves in the characters. It has also become common for bands that take themselves too seriously to be compared to Spinal Tap. It’s a film that really helped to deflate the ego of the rock and roll movement by showing just how silly the whole thing is. The constant focus of these bands on image with little regard for artistic quality is a powerful commentary that the film pushes through in the most effective way: through laughter. This is what separates good and great parody, and Spinal Tap certainly finds itself in the latter category, where it will likely remain a cult hit among viewers for years to come.
Films Left to Watch: 984