When you think of the great bands of the 1980’s, who comes to mind? Queen? Bon Jovi? Journey? How about Spinal Tap? In the era of well-known artists one documentarian took it upon himself to make a rockumentary on Spinal Tap. Without further ado, This is Spinal Tap.
To begin, This is Spinal Tap is not a real rockumentary but rather a parody of other documentaries on rock n’ roll artists in the age of MTV. I want to make this distinction because the film is dedicated to appearing as realistic as possible. It opens with documentarian Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner, the director) introducing his documentary on the band Spinal Tap, known as “the loudest band in Britain”. The band consists of David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) the vocalist, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) the lead guitarist, and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) the bassist. There are drummers, but he is one of many who inexplicably die. Anyway, the documentary follows the band as they look to reclaim a spot on the charts by promoting their new album “Smell the Glove” in America.
This is Spinal Tap is a fantastic comedy. The strength of this film relies on the structure. With the film being a ‘rockumentary’, there was more room for the actors to let the comedy flow from them naturally. Some comedies have this issue where their humor feels shoved at you and you don’t laugh. A movie that is guilty of this is the new Ghostbusters movie. Here, DiBergi is asking the band a series of questions and their answers are so nonchalant it makes the situations funnier. The comedy is understated, but when it comes, it packs a punch. It all would happen as the concerts were underway, making the band members look like they’re struggling My favorite comedic scenes are all the mishaps during Spinal Tap’s concerts, particularly one involving the landmark Stonehenge.
When I went into This is Spinal Tap, I anticipated comedy. But as the film slowly progressed, there was a lot of heart in this story. Spinal Tap is a band that is far from its heyday and is playing smaller and smaller venues. It’s disheartening to see this band struggle to gain an audience. Over an hour and 23 minutes, you become attached to the motley musicians and you want them to succeed. I don’t want to spoil it, but when the film hits its low point, it feels very low and tugs at your heartstrings. The band’s lows make their highs feel even better, almost like those cheesy triumphant freeze frames at the end of 80’s movies.
Overall, This is Spinal Tap is one of the best documentary satires to come out of the 1980’s. It was so realistic in its presentation that it fooled audiences on release. But what is truly amazing about this film is the fact that it blends its understated comedy and emotional heart to make a compelling movie. It’s a laugh riot that led the way to the mockumentary to gain prominence in television shows like The Office and films like What We Do in the Shadows. The humor is iconic and I will never look at Stonehenge the same way ever again. This is Spinal Tap turns it up to an 11 and gets an A-.
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