Spinal Tap, the world's loudest band, is chronicled by hack documentarian Marti DeBergi on what proves to be a fateful tour.
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I have a confession to make. The first time I saw This Is Spinal Tap, I thought it was a real documentary about a real rock band. I remember eagerly asking my father to buy me the “Shark Sandwich” album. In my defense, I was only twelve years old at the time. Still, I should have known better, especially since I managed to suppress the fact that the lead singer looked suspiciously like Lenny from Laverne & Shirley.
The “Rockumentary” is directed by Martin DiBergi (Rob Reiner). Come to think of it, I should have also noticed that Martin was a dead ringer for Meathead from All In The Family. Anyway, Martin is on a quest to document the triumphant return of Britain’s legendary Spinal Tap to America. He thought he was going to get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to put on a rock and roll tour. What he ended up capturing was enough to give real rock bands nightmares.
Spinal Tap arrives in New York to attend the launch party for the forthcoming release of their “Smell The Glove” album and the subsequent tour. They pose for a photo with the president of the record company and everyone is all smiles. Things are off to a great start. And then the tour starts.
While the film is definitely played for laughs, one of the key reasons it works so well is that by focusing on the band on their downside instead of at their peak, we find ourselves rooting for them to recapture their former glory. It’s hard not to sympathize with the boys when we watch them in their hotel room huddled around a radio listening to the DJ saying that Spinal Tap is “currently residing in the where are they now file.”
The classic Spinal Tap lineup includes lead singer and guitarist, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). The trio has survived the rock and roll wars to this point. Their drummers have not been so lucky. From bizarre gardening accidents and spontaneous combustions to choking on someone else’s vomit, the drum stool in Spinal Tap is not the safest place to be.
Whether you’re a fan of music, comedy or the whole mockumentary subgenre, This Is Spinal Tap has something for everyone. And the band didn’t stop here. They’ve since released albums and have gone on actual tours. McKean, Guest and Shearer all write the songs and play their own instruments. Spinal Tap, in fact, is a real band. It looks like I knew what I was talking about when I was twelve. If only I could find a copy of “Shark Sandwich.”This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.