Cinophile: This Is Spın̈al Tap

4 min read
1
[column size=one_half position=first ]

There is a reason why the number eleven signifies the next level, excess, overkill. This Is Spinal Tap. Not many fake documentaries (mockumentaries) are very good. Fewer still ever end up being remembered. And less than a handful become immortal movies. But so far only one managed to create a few cultural memes of its own that still exist 30 years after it was released.

This Is Spın̈al Tap documents the fading British Seventies metal band Spın̈al Tap as it embarks on a tour of the United States. An advertising director called Marty Di Bergi (played by the film’s actual director Rob Reiner) follows the group as they toil through canceled shows, failed album signings, small bread slices, rejection of album covers with titles like ‘Smell The Glove’ and tiny Stonehenges.

The group’s core three members also reminisce on the history of Spın̈al Tap, starting as a lounge quartet and then hippy folk band before hearing the call of glam metal. They also ponder the band’s curious string of drummers killed in freak accidents. But spontaneous combustion is severely under reported. Personal matters, band fights, agitated managers and trying out acid jazz all make up the rich tapestry of drama behind the band.

Befitting a documentary about a band, there are numerous performances, all parodies of various rock and metal styles. The entire movie is a generous poke at the decadent glam rock era of the Seventies and many of the events in the film were inspired by actual events. But the real reason this movie works is the cast – the main actors slap on faux British accents and live out their faded rock band fantasy to the full. Most of the dialogue was ad-libbed and hours of footage was shot. Along the way a great support cast backs them up.

Spın̈al Tap’s relatively predictable story arch is bolstered by genius imbecilic moments like getting trapped in props or being lost backstage at the start of a show. When on stage they belt out a range of classic songs with lyrics like “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’”. Bringing it all together are the interviews and candid recordings of the band, who make the most ridiculous comments with completely deadpan faces. That’s when they aren’t wrestling with under-sized slices of bread or arguing about tiny Stonehenges.

[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ]
The actors all played their own instruments, which gave the film a very authentic feel. It fooled quite a few people, including Ozzy Osbourne, who admitted he initially thought it was real. U2’s The Edge magazine said the mockumentary came so close to the real thing, he could weep. The Norwegian release of the film had a constant disclaimer on screen and the music videos for the band also came with notices that Spın̈al Tap isn’t actually real.
The actors all played their own instruments, which gave the film a very authentic feel. It fooled quite a few people, including Ozzy Osbourne, who admitted he initially thought it was real. U2’s The Edge magazine said the mockumentary came so close to the real thing, he could weep. The Norwegian release of the film had a constant disclaimer on screen and the music videos for the band also came with notices that Spın̈al Tap isn’t actually real.
The legend of ‘11’ is This Is Spın̈al Tap’s most famous cultural meme. It refers to a special amp owned by the band’s lead guitarist - whereas other amps only go to ‘10’, this model’s knobs could all turn to ‘11’, which in the eyes of the guitarist make sits louder. The ‘11’ reference is highly regarded enough that the movie’s score on IMDB is out of 11, not 10. It has appeared in a range of places, from Dr. Who to Tesla car sound systems. There is a Wikipedia page covering it.
The legend of ‘11’ is This Is Spın̈al Tap’s most famous cultural meme. It refers to a special amp owned by the band’s lead guitarist – whereas other amps only go to ‘10’, this model’s knobs could all turn to ‘11’, which in the eyes of the guitarist make sits louder. The ‘11’ reference is highly regarded enough that the movie’s score on IMDB is out of 11, not 10. It has appeared in a range of places, from Dr. Who to Tesla car sound systems. There is a Wikipedia page covering it.
[/column]
Spın̈al Tap first appeared in a failed skit for a TV comedy show in 1979. A few years later Rob Reiner resurrected the idea and brought Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer onboard to play the band. Though Reiner wrote most of the script, there was so much improv fdialog that the credits were expanded to include the three were included in the writing credits.
Spın̈al Tap first appeared in a failed skit for a TV comedy show in 1979. A few years later Rob Reiner resurrected the idea and brought Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer onboard to play the band. Though Reiner wrote most of the script, there was so much improvised dialog that the credits were expanded to include the three were included in the writing credits.

Best scene:

The band manages to get lost backstage, walking endlessly through underground tunnels while they hear the crowd go crazy.

Best quote:

“I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece, really. It’s sort of…”
“What do you call this?”
“Well, this piece is called ‘Lick My Love Pump’.”

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: June 9, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

Check Also

Clarkson, Hammond and May have made a video game – The Grand Tour

The idiotic trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have made a game, and m…