Tom Gooderson-A’Court discusses Spinal Tap for Rock week at GB Posters….
Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Spinal Tap, Iron Maiden, KISS, Black Sabbath. Some of the greatest rock bands in history, but there’s an odd one out. Spinal Tap, a band formed by actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer aren’t really a band at all. Spinal Tap are a fake band, created for the 1984 film This is Spinal Tap, a documentary, or rockumentary about a fictional aging British rock band embarking on their first US tour in six years. We follow their story from their landing in New York, through mishaps and mistakes as they struggle to deal with diminishing audiences, problems with the record label and inter band tensions. The film has become and iconic cult hit with the band still performing regularly today and has been credited by Ricky Gervais as one of the biggest influences for The Office. The band has even appeared in The Simpsons.
The band is followed on tour by Marti DiBergi (director Rob Reiner) who interviews them and charts the highs and mostly lows of a touring rock band. Things start well for Tap as their opening shows are met with large, enthusiastic audiences but as it progresses the tour is met with cancelled shows “Boston isn’t a big college town”, a delayed album “It’s offensive” and tensions when lead singer David St Hubbins interfering girlfriend joins the tour “It should of been mixed in Dubly”. One of the best things about Spinal Tap is their complete lack of intelligence and common sense. In one infamous scene they get completely lost backstage. Unable to find the stage door they wonder round aimlessly still pumped up for their show and bump into the same stage hand twice. They are also unable to understand why the image of a greased up, naked woman on all fours who is being forced to ‘smell the glove’ could be an offensive image for an album cover. This results in the release of a completely black album cover which in the words of guitarist Nigel Tufnel could be “none more blacker”.
The comedic highlight for me is the “These go to eleven” scene in which Tufnel is showing DiBergi his guitar collection and his amp which instead of going to ten is one louder. Tufnel explains that if he is at ten he has nowhere else to go but with this amp can take it to eleven. DeBergi sensibly asks why Tufnel doesn’t just use an amp for which ‘10’ is louder but Tufnel can’t quite comprehend the question and responds dryly that “These go to eleven”. The scene and statement have become so famous that even the BBC iPlayer goes up to eleven and real life musicians such as Eddie Van Halen use amps which go up to eleven.
An additional strength of the film is that Spinal Tap’s music is actually really good. From Big Bottom, a song exulting in larger ladies behinds which is played on three bass guitars to the innuendo filled Sex Farm and hilarious anthem of Stonehenge, there isn’t a bad song in the film. Each song is presented with the over the top stage presentation of the bands which the film is parodying and includes the likes of playing a guitar with a violin instead of a pick and appearing on stage from within giant cocoons. The fact that the actors not only learned but mastered their instruments is another extraordinary feature of the film. I bought the album This is Spinal Tap several years ago and it always brings a smile to my face when one of its songs pops up on my iPod.
This is a film, much like Ardman’s Wallace and Gromit which rewards multiple viewings. Not only do the characters, songs and story remain fresh but you’ll pick up on extra little nuggets each time you watch. Often there is a small, almost hidden joke in amongst the dialogue as the characters talk over one another and it’s also a film which I’ve been able to appreciate more as I’ve grown up. Some of the more obscure references and racier jokes went over my head as a sixteen year old but ten years later I can fully appreciate the layers within the dialogue and song lyrics.
For me This is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest and most enjoyable films I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to be a rock fan to enjoy it (although it helps) because there are things in it which everyone will understand and laugh at. It is both a remarkably silly and intelligent film and is a wonderful parody of a 1980s rock band.
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