This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
User ReviewsReview this title
"See Spinal Tap" should be written in the dictionary next to satire. Lately satire has come to mean a simple mockery of pop-culture instead of "human vice or folly attacked through irony, derision or wit". Movies like "Scary Movie" claim to be parodies or satire without even trying to be witty. They just imitate something as opposed to commenting on it. True satire takes a bit more work by the writers and will make you laugh much harder.
Spinal Tap gives you the absurdity of the rock and roll world, yet still respects the music. I understood this when I saw a clip of the movie for the first time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was the scene with amps that go to "11". I couldn't stop thinking about that scene until I finally saw the movie. Every aspect of the music world is lampooned; arrogance, absurdity, backstage crybabies, has-beenism, volume, even the Beatles. This movie is quoted like the Simpsons, which isn't always good but certainly proof of legendary movie. It's dry, deadpan humor and it may take a day to sink in but this movie is hilarious.
Cold sores, drugs, late-night debauchery, and the brutal snubbing of a Sinatra-loving chauffeur are just some of the antics on display, in what could be the most penetrating and uncensored examination of the rock n' roll lifestyle since "Gimme Shelter." Whereas that movie features one grainy, out-of-focus killing, this film actually shows the band's drummer spontaneously combusting on stage! And apparently this was the second time that happened (or maybe I'm thinking of the drummer they lost to an unexplained gardening accident, I'm a little unclear.)
DiBergi hasn't made a movie since "Spinal Tap," which is a shame. No chance he'll make a sequel though. In the 2000-issue DVD, band members Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls make clear that they feel betrayed by DiBergi's work, calling it "a hatchet job" and hinting that his jealousy about not being the sixth band member caused him to show only the band's bad side. For example, we see in the movie Spinal Tap backstage at Cleveland's legendary Xanadu Star Theater wandering fruitlessly through a warren of back corridors trying to find their way onto the stage. Nine times out of ten the band found their way on stage without problem, as they point out on the commentary track, but DiBergi has to show the one time they don't.
Murphy's Law seems to predominate elsewhere, too, like when Nigel's back gives out in the middle of a blistering solo, or Derek is trapped in a giant peapod prop for an entire song. Viewers of a particularly cruel disposition may even find some cause for amusement when a misunderstanding in Austin, Texas leads to the band performing their legendary number "Stonehenge" in front of a model of the ancient monument that barely comes up to the drummer's kit. Maybe they could have gotten away with it if they didn't let the dwarfs come onstage and dance alongside it, but the result, as St. Hubbins notes, is almost "a comedy number, and I didn't bloody appreciate being part of the comedy."
The band struggles on, and perceptive viewers may detect a slight note of friction between Tufnel and Jeanine, St. Hubbins's girlfriend, for example when Tufnel throws his guitar down on stage, stares at Jeanine accusingly for a minute, and then quits the band. Misogynists will say Jeanine is the kind of rock wife that 'puts the yoke in Yoko,' but they shallowly ignore her tambourine-playing, or her fearless use of red satin as a pant fabric.
Admittedly, Jeanine is less on point as a manager, as an early gig under her control at an amusement park finds them billed under their opening act. 'If I told them once, I told them a thousand times,' she muses. 'Put the band's name first, puppet show after.'
But the band soldiers on, and by the end, you will be glad you stuck around, too, rough as it is to see the harshness on screen. It's the kind of documentary that demands periods of quiet reflection to take it all in, to register the pain, sweat, and unpleasant odors behind the entertainment we too often take for granted on the radio.
Sadly, the film doesn't feature a complete version of Spinal Tap standards 'Hell Hole' or the big-in-Japan 'Sex Farm.' We do get a full-throated version of the classic 'Big Bottom,' a power ballad which examines the seat of female beauty with a wry Steely Dan-type lyrical subtlety: 'Big Bottom/Big Bottom/Talk about mud flaps/My girl's got 'em.'
Why don't they make songs like that any more? I give this film a 9 out of 10, but with the DVD commentary, you gotta boost that to 11. Rock on, Tap!
Hysterically funny and dead-on "rockumentary" spoof of absurd documentaries and lame so-called rock groups with wicked satirical approach and clever camera shots as well. Directed by Reiner (his debut) with accurate depiction of super-inflated egos, pompous hangers-on and hilarious intimate moments with great dialogue thanks to the improvisations of the trio who reportedly worked from no screenplay. Best moment: Spinal Tap trying to find the stage. And I personally agree with the keyboardist's philosophy of "Have a good time, all the time".
Despite what anyone else tells you, this is easily one of the most quotable movies made and is just as funny today as it was when it was made, unless you are so out of touch with the world that it affectionately spoofs. The film is almost a tragedy so well does it chronicle the absurd collapse of the band. However, regardless of the hows and whats, the comedy is in the characters and the sharp dialogue. While most of the specific action is really funny, it is best during the backstage arguments and the candid interviews.
The dialogue is fantastic from start to finish and is made better by a superb cast delivering absurd lines with a straight face! McKean, Guest and Shearer are the strongest of the cast have most of the best lines. The support cast is also crammed with cameos from such people as Bruno Kirby, Billy Crystal, Begley Jnr, Macnee, Paul Shaffer, Anjelica Huston and others. Reiner excels as director, writer and documentarian, the film has his hands all over it.
Overall this is a great film, so much has been said about it that I won't go on any longer. While it is not an out and out spoof like Naked Gun, this film is wittier as the comedy comes from the dialogue and the sheer imagination of the writing!
The movie handles all these events as serious as possible, presenting itself as a real documentary about a real band. The fact that the band members are not too bright makes it funny. Especially the scene where the lead singer talks about an amplifier that goes to eleven instead of ten and therefore produces louder sounds is hilarious. The scene where the band plays on a Stonehenge stage is a classic, very memorable.
Writer Christopher Guest recently wrote and starred in 'Best in Show' (2000) and 'A Mighty Wind' (2003), two hilarious and terrific fake documentaries, the so-called mockumentaries, but 'This is Spinal Tap' stays the classic example. He and his co-writers, including director Reiner, have created the ultimate cult classic.
To be quite frank, 'Spinal Tap' is just like marmite. You'll either love everything about it or hate every frame of it. Some people say it's like watching wet paint dry, others say it was so funny it gave them a hernia. I definitely fall into that latter category. After the umpteenth viewing, I still find it painfully hilarious!
But that's not the only reason for seeing it. It's also a totally accurate, observational and witty deconstruction of rock's strutting pretensions. If you're someone who thinks rock bands take themselves far too seriously, you need this movie. If, on the other hand, you feel like rock stars should forever be treated like gods and worshipped on a regular basis, you might just want to avoid this. After all, when Aerosmith's Steven Tyler had finished watching it he said he just felt like he wanted to throw himself off a cliff! It reveals the utter shallowness of rock 'n' roll without even flinching!
If you're also a lover of in-your-face laugh-out-loud got-it-straight-away humour, just stay away. Far, far away. This is intellectual stuff. You have to possess intelligence to enjoy it. I've never met any stupid people who did enjoy this film.
Director Rob Reiner really shows how broad his range is with this (his best in my opinion!), bringing every authentic detail, no matter how seemingly minor, to the screen effortlessly with a wonderfully sharp cast. Its still a challenge to get my head around the fact that this is from the same tubby Santa Claus look-alike who made 'The Princess Bride' and 'Stand By Me'! Reiner has always been a man with extraordinarily wide horizons and always will be, constantly entertaining cinema-goers with so many different stories!
The film's fly-on-the-wall mockumentary style works wonders, getting some beautiful performances from its actors (namely Michael McKean and Christopher Guest) and adding to its 'natural' feel. Many films, mainly British ones, have imitated this style ever since. Even one of the film's actors and co-writers has stuck to the hip of this film for the most part of his career, coming up with new and even more outlandish 'mockumentaries' to entertain and sate his legion of followers.
On each viewing, you'll erupt into laughter at the discovery of a new joke. Then for weeks on end, you'll be quoting it to your friends and everyone you know. It's like a treasure trove without a bottom!
To finish this not-so-critical analysis, I can never find any fault or flaw even after the innumerable viewings I've had. I never get bored of it either. I think the reason I like this so much is, honestly, because it was made for people like me!
Filmmaker Marty DiBergi, taking a break from dog food commercials, is determined to capture the sights, sounds and smells of his favorite rock group, the legendary Spinal Tap, on their latest U.S. tour. They're a 20-year old heavy metal outfit from England centering around lead singer David St. Hubbins (McKean), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest) and bass guitarist Derek Smalls (Shearer). The rest of the band is a revolving door of personnel including a series of unlucky drummers who have met with bizarre demises. The new tour is the first the band has made of America in years, and unfortunately the they seem to have lost about as many fans as they've lost brain cells. When asked if the smaller venues that the band is playing on this tour means they are losing popularity, manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) quickly dismisses the idea. The band's fans are just becoming more "selective," he says.
Still, the group is received well at their initial shows--that is if the gig hasn't been canceled, if their balky stage props don't malfunction, and if the band can find its way to the stage from their dressing rooms. But the tour is one disaster following another. Fans don't show up for autograph sessions at record stores. Radio stations play their oldies and ask, "where are they now?" To top things off, David's girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick), the band's Yoko Ono, arrives. She soon starts contributing her ideas, such as having the band dress in fantasy creature costumes and recording their music "in Dubly."
Even with all this trouble, the band feels things will pick up if they can just get their new album released. But Polymer Records refuses to distribute "Smell the Glove" with its lurid cover art. Eventually it's released with a solid black record sleeve, with nary a word or picture on it. This turns out to be a reverse image of the Beatles' white album in appearance, artistic success and sales. The band sinks so low as to be billed second to a puppet show at a theme park. The pressures are just too much and as the tour limps to a close the long life of Spinal Tap seems at an end. But rock & roll is a funny business...
Throughout we're treated to the band's rock & roll wisdom and philosophy. For instance, Nigel lets Marty in on one of the reasons for their success--loud amplifiers. While the volume settings on other bands' equipment might just go to 10, theirs goes to 11! Asked if there's really a difference, Nigel replies, "Yeah, well it's like... one louder, innit?"
There are tons of cameos by all sorts of people, including some funny portrayals of PR flacks by Fran Drescher and Paul Shaffer. This is a brilliant comedy that, despite all the parody, loves its subject. Treat yourself to it.
First off, the entire film is ad-libbed except for the songs and a few lines; which is the reason that people are talking over each other a lot, requiring repeated viewings to catch everything. It is in documentary format, so it all works for this type of film. The songs are hysterical but catchy at the same time, just like real 80's arena rock and hair metal (well some of it). It certainly helps to be a fan of the rock genre to enjoy the film, or you will miss out on some significant references and the basis for each of the band members.
There are no dull moments in this brisk, 82-minute film, and the sheer number of hysterical cameos (including Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer and Anjelica Huston) kicks the film up to 11 as they all put in stellar performances.
This film should be in the Top 100, no question. On my list, it would be in the Top 10. Of course, American History X is currently rated #41, so that tells you something about the IMDb rating system.
There are funny moments in here. The only part I really didn't like was near the end when the bickering of the band got out of control. Their constant arguing gets tough to take after awhile. That's another problem here; there are no appealing characters. This British band is not comprised of nice guys, and I also found their accents tough to understand. If this is out on DVD with English subtitles, it might be worth a second look.
The music was fair, nothing to rave about. Overall, I enjoyed the movie but didn't find it anywhere as great as most critics described it. It's okay, but not that funny.
One of the writers, Christopher Guest, has gone on to make several "mockumentaries." He has done quite well with that genre, better than Reiner. I've seen them all, and Guest's comedies are all entertaining to various degrees.
Just get the Special Edn right now-if you don't, you'll be missing half the movie. Literally. The half that was deleted for theatrical release is every bit as good, and fresh, as the half that was kept.
The actors' talents will blow you away. Not only do Michael McKean as David St.Hubbins and Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel have impeccable East-Ender English accents (tragically, Harry Shearer's accent as Derek Smalls keeps slipping back into his real Yank), but the actors pick up their old-pair-of-jeans personas 16yrs later for the audio commentary.
It's as if Spinal Tap never `retired'.
`In the 1990s the fictitious group reunited for a series of concerts and a TV special' (Leonard Maltin). Naturally, for years I thought Tap were a real band: with an authentic logo, a 1980s white-trash-rocker-look with long, heavy-metal hair, skeleton-emblazoned sleeveless T-shirts and lurid lycra hotpants, they're indistinguishable from real rockers of the day.
They even nail a 1960s soundalike clip, 'Listen to the Flower People'. Shame we never see its follow-up song, 'Again with the Flower People'-its title alone implies hilarity. During DiBergi's `rockumentary', Tufnel also plays a gorgeous, tinkly `Mach' piano solo, which he has unfortunately called 'Lick my Love-Pump'.
All their video clips are credible, except for 'Stonehenge' (St.Hubbins' defense is to blame their manager: `...but you're not as confused as Nigel-are you?').
It was a lot of fun getting fooled, but discovering it was all bogus makes them seem all the more talented, and hilarious!
Their very first drummer, John 'Stumpy' Peeps (Ed Begley Jr) supposedly died `in a freak gardening accident'. His replacement died by choking on vomit. `Actually, he choked on someone else's vomit', adds Tufnel in a DiBergi interview. During their Flower People period Peter 'James' Bond apparently `exploded on stage' in a green puff of smoke. His replacement also `exploded'. 'Tap now think they despatched something like 37 drummers over the years.
The boys are indeed screamingly funny (listen closely to the dialogue). Infuriatingly, Leonard Maltin thinks they aren't funny enough, despite calling their effort `cunning satire'. Their humour is extreme improv, which cannot afford too many over-the-top lines, lest it jeopardizes our suspension of disbelief!
Spinal Tap are dopey repulsivos narcissistically convinced of their own relevance. The actors play them completely straight, which requires timing that never slips up. Mockumentaries take enormous discipline and talent. Clearly McKean, Guest & Shearer could do St.Hubbins, Tufnel & Smalls till the cows came home. (There's about an hour's worth of additional 1984 footage on the Special Edition DVD; plus the brand new audio commentary recorded 16yrs later).
The director of the `rockumentary', Marty DiBergi (actually the co-writer of the script, the songs, actor, and also the real director, Rob Reiner), remains admirably skeptical in reporting Tap's comprehensive lack of success during their comeback tour of America, ie now that their appeal has become `more selective'.
He probes their pasts, asks the relevant questions, and reads out `published reviews' of their previous albums:
*'Intravenus DeMilo': `The tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growthrate of this band cannot even be charted; they're treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry', to which the boys retort, `That's nitpicking!'
*'Shark Sandwich': `This had a 2-word review. Sh!t sandwich.'
DiBergi then goes on to observe that `the makeup of your audience seems to be young...boys'. St.Hubbins+Tufnel explain: `Well, it's a sexual thing, really. Aside from the identifying the boys do with us, there's also a reaction of the female(s) to our music....' Tufnel: `Really, they're quite fearful. They see us on stage, with tight trousers; we've got, you know, armadillos in our trousers!....it's quite frightening, the size; and they run, screaming' (watch McKean almost lose it for real at Guest's `armadillo' improv).
Tap's litany of embarrassing stage accidents (over&above the despatched drummers) include Nigel overextending backwards and getting stuck; their stage-effect `pods' seizing up with Derek inside while stagehands feverishly hammer away; and sound interference from an airbase transmission tower. But the never-to-be-forgotten CLASSIC is when the band gets lost underground, trying to find the stage door. Of course, this scene has since been paid homage by legitimate bands such as The Rolling Stones, admitting the same thing happening to them in real life!
The list of cameos includes Fran Drescher as Bobbie Flekman the Polymer Records hostess; Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal as mime waiters in whiteface (backstage, Crystal, the head waiter, in an apparently throwaway role, bosses the unrecognizable Carvey around with `Mime is money! Move it!'); Patrick MacNee as Sir Dennis; Crystal's real-life friend Bruno Kirby as that limo driver enamoured of Frank Sinatra; Joyce Hyser from Just One of the Guys as Brenda the brunette groupie; Anjelica Huston as the Stonehenge modelmaker; and as mentioned, Ed Begley Jr as 'Stumpy' Peeps.
No `rockumentary' would be complete without the obligatory group breakup, hysterical tantrums and overbearing girlfriends; but Tap's level of talent and commitment seems to prick the bubbles of all heavy-metal bands.
The credits roll-at 1hr:16mins-much too soon, because the movie is still going. DiBergi is still interviewing them, asking, `Do you feel your music is racist?' St.Hubbins and Tufnel rebuff this with `No, 'course not, we say `Love your brother'-well, we don't say it, really'; `...We don't literally say it...we don't literally mean it...'-a line that always slays me. THIS line is MY fav., not Maltin's one about the amplifier dial that `goes up to 11'-which for me is only the 2nd-funniest.
TiST still reigns as the Mother of All Mocku(rocku)mentaries, with its seamless, screamingly funny `cunning satire'.(10/10)
Even so, the film slots in neatly with Reiner's future romantic comedies, and the relationship between Nigel and David is immensely touching, as they have to battle the usual obstcles to their love before realising that they are worthless without each other. Watch how David celebrates the juvenile misogyny of 'Big Bottoms' by thrusting his priapic axe against Nigel's titular rump. Every farcical set-piece, song, line of dialogue, facial expression, incident is a classic. So Rob, what happened?
Rob Reiner has cleverly imitated the style of a documentary film, and the actors are all so extremely plausible in these roles that it comes as no surprise that many people watch this film without realizing that it is fiction or have become fans of a nonexistent group. Read the other reviews if you don't believe this. People regularly have to be told that this film is a joke, which means usually that it's not a very good joke.
As a satire, this film also falls short. If this imaginary group is held up to ridicule, Reiner has carefully insulated the entire music industry from that ridicule. If Spinal Tap is ridiculous, the fact that everyone seems to reject them implies that the music industry is too savvy to be that ridiculous. Satire that doesn't poke fun at real people isn't satire.
There are occasional flashes of genuine brilliance, such as the amp that "goes to 11". Unfortunately the film shies away from the absurdity of such concepts rather than exploiting them. Having stated the concept it is then dismissed as something only Nigel Tufnel would be stupid enough to to think.
Mostly, however, the film relies upon its uncanny resemblance to a real rockumentary to entertain. There is no question that a really effective imitation can be very entertaining. Ask anyone who has seen an Elvis impersonator. Aficionados of the heavy metal genre will recognize a number of allusions to real musicians here, but such allusions will be lost on less well-informed viewers.
You might think that the film might be an effective parody or caricature. But the illusion is too close to the reality--parody and caricature get their humour from grossly emphasizing some aspect of the thing imitated, like making Mick Jagger's lips the size of a football. There is none of that here.
In short, there is not sufficient humour to counterweigh the essentially tragic nature of the story presented. There is, as you might say, a very fine line between tragedy and comedy.
Watch it for the cleverness and the truly fine acting throughout, but not for laughs unless you like laughing at cripples.
I've had numerous friends recommend me This is Spinal Tap and, judging by the style of it, I thought for sure I would find this very funny. I finally sat down to watch it, and I kept waiting for a funny moment to arrive. A line, an image, a gag -- anything. The best I could do was smile half-assedly at some of the scenes and only because I so desperately wanted to find it amusing. Spinal Tap seems to shift to automatic pilot very soon in the film and just expect its audience to find the bland band interactions hysterical, as it attempts nothing else. The dialogue is viciously realistic as is the format in which the film is shot, but does that make it funny? No, not really - it only makes it realistic.
The cast are not very dynamic. They are, at best, mildly funny in a goofy sort of way that you just chuckle on the inside at, but ultimately every last one of them is incapable of projecting any real charisma or humour on-screen. It is therefore beyond me how This is Spinal Tap ever got vaulted into a cult status.
As for good aspects, it does have some interesting approaches to it, like the mockumentary style which it adopts. I'm sure there was comedy behind it, but these ideas were either badly executed or not at all. 5/10
I managed to chuckle about three times (the stonehenge bit, the 'trapped in the pod' bit, and the tight trousers scenes- three funny moments; three stars. That's generous) over this incredibly short film, but the entire film was the exact same joke (that they're idiots and they're not very popular) played out over and over again. I've heard that 90% of this is improv- and it FEELS like improv. Poorly done improv. I've done improv work on stage before- an idiot is by far the easiest character to improvise for, because you can be as slow as you want, and you just have to say random stuff and pretend you don't understand things to get laughs. A 13 year old could come up with better lines- when I was in primary school, I was pretending to confuse 'sexist' and 'sexy'. The best bits by far were the scripted parts- the concerts and such.
However, this film has loads of fans, so I can only deduce that these are people who saw it when it was new, and it just hasn't aged well. I've seen almost all of the gags done elsewhere- Spinal Tap probably did it first, but other shows/mockumentaries do it better. The worst parts are plodding scenes of inane talking that leave you confused, wondering if what you just saw was supposed to be funny or not. It's not that I 'didn;t get it'- I got the jokes, they just weren't that funny- far too obvious for my liking. There was no subtlety in it at all- what you see is what you get. There's no plot to speak of, but a series of gags crudely stitched together, with more cul-de-sacs and pointless story arcs than your average episode of Family Guy.
Maybe it was the hype. Maybe I was expecting too much from the 'greatest comedy of all time', but I absolutely hated it. There really is nothing more to it than the clips you see on TV and reviewing programmes!
The bottom line- if you're a fan, great! Enjoy it! But if you're a noobie, AVOID!
What finally got me to watch it was William Goldman's commentary on the DVD for "The Princess Bride". That has always been one of my favorite movies -- very funny. But if you see and hear Goldman talk, you'd think he'd never so much as cracked a smile in his life. It amazed me that someone who looks and sounds so gloomy could do something so light and funny as Princess Bride.
In describing how he managed to get together with Rob Reiner, Goldman said he'd seen "Spinal Tap" and had never laughed so hard in his life, and had tears rolling down his face. I thought, "If it could make *him* laugh, it must really be funny." So I watched it.
I think I chuckled once or twice.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not criticizing those who do find it funny. Like I say, it just points out what amazingly wide variation there is in what people consider funny.
Beyond not being very funny (to me), the movie was in fact moderately interesting just as a documentary of a rock band. I fast-forwarded a couple of times, but sat through most of it.