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This Is Spinal Tap (1984) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Spinal Tap, one of England's loudest bands, is chronicled by film director Marty DiBergi on what proves to be a fateful tour.

  • In 1982, the legendary English heavy metal band Spinal Tap attempt an American comeback tour accompanied by a fan who is also a film-maker. The resulting documentary, interspersed with powerful performances of Tap's pivotal music and profound lyrics, candidly follows a rock group heading towards crisis, culminating in the infamous affair of the eighteen-inch-high Stonehenge stage prop.

  • The English heavy metal band Spinal Tap embarks on their biggest tour in the US to date to promote their new album "Smell The Glove". The tour is so big that it's attracted the attention of documentary filmmaker Marti DeBergi, who decides to make a movie about Spinal Taps' trek across America. But as the documentary goes along, Spinal Tap sees their audiences dwindle from selling out huge arenas to going to play at charity benefits, and eventually playing private parties where no one pays attention to their music. Their new album drops and it's decently reviewed by critics, but the record stores have a huge problem with the sexist overtones of the album's cover, causing a loss in sales. However, a series of incidents that constantly shoot themselves in the foot - whether it's a minuscule Stonehenge monument, a stage prop malfunction, or a simple two word review of an album - keep preventing the band from enjoying the success they deserve. But how long can they keep playing to 11? And will they find the audience that suits them?

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  • Director Rob Reiner (as Marti DiBergi) follows the fictional English rock group Spinal Tap on their latest tour in this mockumentary. The famed band, with a dozen or more studio album, have a lot to deal with. They clearly aren't as popular as they once were and face playing before sparse crowds in smaller venues. They also have to deal with canceled dates (not to worry, their manager says when they lean their gig in Boston has been canceled, it's not a big college town), arguments about their latest album cover and the arrival of one of the band members' girlfriends who would like to play a role in managing the band. All in all, not a successful tour.

  • Marty DeBergi is a film-maker who decides to make a documentary, a rockumentary actually, about the world's loudest band, the English heavy metal group Spinal Tap. The movie is in fact a biting satire and spoof of the whole rock and roll scene that passes itself off as a real documentary of a real band. Hilarious behind-the-scenes footage is combined with faux-concert clips to breathe life into the imaginary group.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Neophyte director Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) presents this "rockumentary" showcasing the North American tour of aging rockers Spïnal Tap. Band members David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derick Smalls (Harry Shearer) form the core of the group, with various drummers dying over the years in freak accidents or through spontaneous human combustion. The band is set to promote their new record, "Smell the Glove," featuring a degrading photograph of a woman in bondage smelling a glove. The cover is deemed too offensive for many chain stores, and is redone in 100% black, lacking a band logo or even a title.

    Their first gig is a huge success selling out New York City's Madison Square Garden. Before the tour begins their promoter holds a huge party for the band as they've successfully completed their latest record "Smell The Glove". The record company CEO toasts Spinal Tap's success by "Tapping Into The Millenium", which coincidentally is the name of their tour.

    Next they're being interviewed by Marty DiBergi. We learn the history of Spinal Tap from the beginning of the band's origins through the present day. It seems that they've gone through a number of lineup changes and drummers - one spontaneously combusted while another choked on his own vomit.

    Spinal Tap is being transported to their next gig, and to pass the time they're reading the autobiography of Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.. The limo driver has a one-sided conversation with them about Frank Sinatra's history. The next song being played is their smash hit single "Big Bottom". We also learn how Spinal Tap's back catalog was received by critics. Most of the albums received rather mixed reviews, but one album called "Shark Sandwich" received just a two word review - "Shit sandwich". Their religious rock album "The Gospel According To Spinal Tap" was also rather poorly received.

    Their next stop takes them to Atlanta for the Recording Industry Convention. There, they learn a couple of gigs were canceled, but nothing to be worried about. While there, they're presented with the finished copies of their new album, but are completely shocked that it's all black. It appears that the record label marketing department was completely offended by the proposed cover as stores have said they flat out weren't going to sell the album, citing it as "filth". Spinal Tap's promoters get into a huge argument with the record label CEO who cites their album cover as "sexist".

    While backstage for their next gig in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Nigel is complaining about the quality (or complete lack thereof) of the food being presented to them. He tells the manager that it's a complete catastrophe and that they wouldn't like being served that food either. The next song they play is "Hell Hole" which is rather well received by the theater crowd. During the song David gets in a rather tense guitar solo and falls to the ground requiring roadies to pick him up. The next day Marti is going over Nigel's massive amounts of equipment that they transport from show to show. He then explains how their amplifiers don't end at 10, they go to 11 which is one louder. Their next gig in Charlotte proves to be another disaster when their gig is cancelled due to a "lack of advertising funds".

    The next interview with Marti we learn that Spinal Tap has a dwindling audience. At the start of last year's tour they were booked into 10,000 and 15,000 seat arenas. Now they're being booked into 4,000 and 6,000 seat arenas. They proceed to take out their frustrations by destroying their hotel room. As Nigel is on the phone to their promoter, they learn that a number of their gigs across the Midwest have been cancelled. But thankfully they're saved when Derek informs them that a song they recorded in the past called "Listen To The Flower People" was being played on the local radio. But their happiness is short lived when the announcer refers to them in the "where are they now" segment.

    Thankfully Spinal Tap has managed to secure a gig in Memphis. There, they pay tribute to Elvis Presley by making a stop at Graceland and singing "Heartbreak Hotel", though none of the band members can remember the words, nor sing in harmony. Spinal Tap's first single was released in 1968 and they've been a band ever since, and evolving with the times and trends, though the recent times have not been kind to them. We also learn of another drummer that died a mysterious death - this one spontaneously combusted on stage.

    At their next gig in Milwaukee, they play a sound check where they play another song from their "Flower People" era called "Give Me Some Money". They're finally presented with a box of copies of "Smell The Glove" where they're stunned to learn that the studio has decided to go with their decision to release the album cover in all black instead of the proposed and very controversial cover. Their next song is called "Rock And Roll Creation" and Derek gets trapped in his pod during the entire song and the roadies desperately try to free him with no success.

    The next interview with Marti DiBergi interviews Spinal Tap's drummer. There he asks whether or not the history of Spinal Tap drummers has him afraid of what might happen to him. He says it's no big deal. On the tour bus to their next gig the band throws a huge party.

    While in Chicago, they have a record signing, but no one shows, upsetting the band and the promoter (Paul Shaffer) blames himself. Spinal Tap manages to secure their next gig in Cleveland. Unfortunately as the crowd is demanding they play, they get lost making their way to the stage repeatedly. The next gig in Albuquerque proves to be particularly embarrassing as the only gig they've managed to secure has them opening for a magician at a rich kid's birthday party. This causes a rift in the band.

    The next gig all hell breaks loose. They play one of their most famous songs - a tribute to the ancient Stonehenge monument in Northern England, complete with dwarf dancers and live props. The live prop happens to be a life size replica of Stonehenge, according to Nigel's design. Unfortunately thanks to a typo the Stonehenge monument actually appears much smaller than he originally specified. This proves to be a huge disaster.

    And things only get worse from there. Their next gig takes them to San Diego and the Miramar Air Force Base where they're the entertainment for a weekend reception. Unfortunately the crowd isn't interested and a frustrated Nigel finally walks off the stage, quitting the band. And then their last gig on the US tour is their worst to date as they're opening for a puppet show at the Zoo. Finally, at the group's last show, Nigel reappears with a message from Ian: the single "Sex Farm" is a big hit in Japan and promoters would be interested in booking the band for a tour there. Spïnal Tap is thus reborn, even as another drummer explodes.

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