This Is Spinal Tap
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This Is Spinal Tap

It isn’t often comedian can almost single-handedly popularize a specific genre film but this was achieved by the multitalented Christopher Guest. A significant portion of his varied career was devoted to the mockumentary, as this portmanteau suggests it is a comical film that mocks the format of a documentary. During the many films that he employed this technique is taken on small towns and infatuation with big-city fame, national level dog shows, folk music and even placed the artistry of filmmaking under his wickedly funny scrutiny. He has been in several other movies including a couple of serious dramas and back in 1974 I took my new wife and sisters-in-law to Greenwich Village to watch him in a number of all the Saturday Night Live alumni, ‘National Lampoon’s Lemmings’. One aspect that sets him apart from every other multitalented comedian wrote, directed and started his own movies can be demonstrated by his full legal name, Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest. Lord Haden-Guest was actually a member of the British Parliament House of Lords. I guess this makes his wife of over 40 years, Jamie Lee Curtis, a British lady.

One of his earliest the most famous mockumentaries is ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. Recently I began reviewing a film chronicling the origins of one of the most outrageously funny satirist of ever encountered, National Lampoon. Combined with finally updating my treasured by the soundtrack of Lemmings to iTunes I couldn’t help but retrieve this disc for my archives in revisited. A number of years since I last watched it as a testimony to its greatness the film still holds up not only as one of the best mockumentaries but one of the funniest films ever made. A number of rock musicians similar to the type being spoofed in the film publicly stated that it was so close to the truth they thought it was a real documentary. This is after all the best criteria for this type of film but the people on both sides of the film can appear to take the subject matter in such a serious right but they can sell it as reality. Although the majority of the film was improvised by the actors the Writers Guild of America restricted to credits Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and director Rob Reiner. Mr. Guest would eventually develop a semiregular troop of comedic actors that commonly work with on other films of this ilk.

The overall approach assumed within the context of the film is highly reminiscent of an episode of VH-1’s long-running series, ‘Behind the Music’ type of documentary style was utilized to examine the career of a band or musician that at one time had been at the top of the charts but has since slid into near obscurity. For the film within the film the documentarian, Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) has been granted access to the once exceptionally popular British hard on metal/hairband, Spinal Tap doing in 1982 concert tour of the United States. The tour was intended to promote their new album ‘Smell the Glove’. The film is exceptionally well structured so as to emulate the tiniest nuances of the true documentary. After a brief introduction of the band members, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) and keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff). The band was also joined by a series of 32 different drummers all of which have died under mysterious circumstances. This has become such a part of the Zeitgeist of popular culture the referring to somebody as "a drummer for Spinal Tap" has become a synonym for inevitable disappearance or replacement. As with any band it was a few people were consistently part of the entourage. Always present on any Spinal Tap tour included Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) and Jeanine (June Chadwick), a follower of yoga and astrology who just happens to be the girlfriend of St. Hubbins. Influence on the group is clearly divisive is obviously intended be reminiscent of Yoko Ono. Once she joins the tour she insinuates herself to the band’s meetings forcing influences on everything from costuming to how they should present themselves on stage.

Even if you are not aware nuances of the business side of being a popular band the jokes are so well honed that even outside is find themselves in fits of laughter. Of the many published comments from members of actual bands is evident that the comedy exist on another level that is best appreciated by insiders of the industry. An example is when the band discovers that there record label, Polygram, has decided on the cover art for the newest album without consulting the band the understandably upset. The record company released the album ‘Smell the Glove’ with an entirely black album cover. While the company felt that this might promote a nihilistic aura surrounding the group it backfired since during autograph opportunities to make signing the album cover difficult. Another mishap that plagues the tour is when it was decided that the band to do a live performance of one of their popular hits, ‘Stonehenge’. The performance was traditionally accompanied by an elaborate stage so that required a scale creation of a giant monolith. Unfortunately the hasty sketch that Tufnel made on a napkin contained a misuse rescaling symbol resulting in an alteration in the size of the finished prop. Instead of an 18 foot megalith towering over the band the item first seen during the performance was only 18 inches in height.

Generally considered to be the most memorable moment of the movie is also concerns a prop, at least a prop from the reference point of the actual film not the one within the context of the story. From that vantage point the item in question is the amplifier. As Tufnel explains to DiBergi he has a custom-made amplifier for his guitar with the volume law goes up to 11, explaining" What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff", is then they have to go beyond 10 to 11. Despite the documentarian pointing out is relabeling the highest output device Nigel replies in a rather bewildered manner," These go to eleven". That runs throughout movie is how close they actually are as musicians and composers. Despite the repeated claims of music acumen is obvious that they are merely parroting back phrases in hopes that they sound erudite. When discussing one of the latest pieces they’re working on space Nigel tells Marty that the pieces in D minor because that is the saddest key of all. For reasons unknown to him people read upon hearing music and that key. He goes on to say that his composition is a mixture of two inferences, Mozart and Bach; he refers to it as Mach. When asked by the filmmaker the name of the piece is told "Lick My Love Pump". When asked about his unusual name Marty wants to know if there is an actual Saint Hubbins, Nigel reassures him that he was a real Saint, the patron saint of quality footwear. They managed to infuse the movie with many references to actual controversial events surrounding popular musical groups. Taking on the John Lennon’s infamous quote that they are bigger than Jesus, Spinal Tap songs include what Marty refers to as "a pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms" involving that God created Spinal Tap personally. Naturally one of the most popular running gags throughout the delightfully bizarre narrative is when one of the band members is asked about the fate of any of the drummers. The responses are obviously lies, the most outrageous excuses possible including spontaneous combustion and explosion something green behind although the members do disagree as to a stain or globule was left behind on the drummer’ s seat. The film holds together now as well as it ever has. It must also be noted that besides the incredible command of improvisational comedy possessed by these comedic actors, they also played their own instruments and provided their own vocals. This film is a must-see classic that remains amazingly funny matter what style of music you personally prefer.

bulletOver 1 Hour of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
bulletAudio Commentary by the Members of Spinal Tap
bulletCatching Up With Marty DiBergi Featurette
bulletFlower People Press Conference
bullet4 Classic Spinal Tap Music Videos
bulletSpinal Tap Appearance on The Joe Franklin Show
bulletSpinal Tap sells cheese and a variety of other exciting products
bulletExclusive Bonus DVD Includes:
bulleto "Stonehenge" Performance at the 2007 Live Earth Concert
bulleto National Geographic Stonehenge Interview with Nigel Tufnel

Posted 04/10/2016

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