This Is Spinal Tap is an American 1984 rock music mockumentary written, scored by and starring Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as the fictional British heavy metal band Spinal Tap. Directed by Reiner, the movie satirizes the wild personal behavior and musical pretensions of hard rock and heavy metal musical bands, as well as thehagiographic tendencies of rock documentaries of the time.
Reiner and the three main actors are credited as the writers of the movie, based on the fact that much of the dialogue was ad libbed by them. Several dozen hours of footage were filmed before Reiner edited it to the released movie. A 4½ hour bootleg version of the movie exists and has been traded among fans and collectors for years.
The three main members of Spinal Tap—David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel—are played by actors Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest, respectively. The three actors play their musical instruments and speak with mock English accents throughout the movie. Reiner appears as Marty Di Bergi, the maker of the documentary. Other actors in the movie are Tony Hendra as group manager Ian Faith, and June Chadwick as St. Hubbins' interfering girlfriend Jeanine. Actors Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Drescher, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Ed Begley, Jr., Patrick Macnee, Anjelica Huston, Vicki Blue, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Brinke Stevens, and Linnea Quigley all play supporting roles or make cameoappearances in the movie.
In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.
- 2 Cast
- 3 Reception
- 4 Home video release
- 5 Appearances in other media
- 6 Related works
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes and references
- 9 External links
Stylistically the movie is a parody of rock documentaries, purportedly filmed and directed by the fictional Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner). The faux documentary covers a 1982 United Statesconcert tour by the fictional British rock group "Spinal Tap" to promote their new album Smell the Glove, but interspersed with one-on-one interviews with the members of the group and footage of the group from previous periods in their career.
The band was started by childhood friends, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), during the 1960s. Originally named "The Originals", then "The New Originals" to distinguish themselves from an existing group of the same name, they settled on the name "The Thamesmen", finding success with their skiffle/rhythm and blues single "Gimme Some Money". They changed their name again to "Spinal Tap" and enjoyed limited success with the flower power anthem "Listen to the Flower People". Ultimately, the band became successful with heavy metal and produced several albums. The group was joined eventually by bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff), and a series of drummers, each of whom mysteriously died in odd circumstances, including spontaneous human combustion, a "bizarre gardening accident" and, in at least one case, choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown. Di Bergi's interviews with St. Hubbins and Tufnel reveal that they are competent composers and musicians, but are dimwitted and immature. Tufnel, in showing his guitar collection to Di Bergi, reveals an amplifier that has volume knobs that go to eleven; when Di Bergi asks, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" Tufnel can only reply, "These go to eleven." Tufnel later plays a somber quasi-classical music composition on piano for Di Bergi, claiming it to be a "Mach piece" (a hybrid between Mozart and Bach), before revealing the composition to be entitled "Lick My Love Pump".
As the tour starts, concert appearances are repeatedly canceled due to low ticket sales. Tensions continue to increase when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove because of its sexist cover art and there is growing resentment shown towards the group's manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). Tufnel becomes even more perturbed when St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) — a manipulative yoga and astrology devotee — joins the group on tour, begins to participate in band meetings, and attempts to influence their costumes and stage presentation. The band's distributor, Polymer Records, opts to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover without consulting the band. The album fails to draw crowds to autograph sessions with the band. To revive interest, Tufnel suggests staging a performance of "Stonehenge," an epic song that is to be accompanied in concert by a lavish stage show, and asks Ian to order a giant Stonehenge megalith for the show. However, Tufnel, rushing a sketch on a napkin, mislabels its dimensions, using a double prime symbol instead of single prime. The resulting prop, seen for the first time by the group during a show, is only 18 inches high (instead of the intended 18 feet), making the group a laughingstock on stage. The group accuses Faith of mismanagement, and when St. Hubbins suggests Jeanine should co-manage the group, Faith quits in disgust.
The tour continues, rescheduled into smaller and smaller venues. Tufnel becomes marginalized by Jeanine and St. Hubbins. At their next gig (at a United States Air Force base near Tacoma, Washington) Tufnel is upset by an equipment malfunction and leaves the group in the middle of a show. In their next gig, in an amphitheater at an amusement park (second-billed behind a puppet show), they find that Nigel's absence severely limits their repertoire. They are forced to improvise a fusion-esque, experimental song entitled "Jazz Odyssey", which is poorly received.
At the last show of the tour, as the group considers venturing into a musical theatre production on the theme of Jack the Ripper entitled 'Saucy Jack', Tufnel reappears and informs them that he is "a messenger" from Ian Faith and Sex Farm is wildly popular in Japan, in fact it's at number 5 in the charts there. He then tells David that Faith would like to arrange a new tour in that country. David is initially cool to the idea, but later, when on stage, David beckons Nigel on to join them and he grabs his guitar and plays with them onstage. David then gets caught up in the moment of the tour's final performance and not only allows Nigel to return, but rehires Faith back as manager as well. Despite losing their drummer Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell) as he inexplicably explodes onstage, the film ends with Spinal Tap playing a series of sold-out arena shows for enthusiastic fans on their Japanese tour.
|*Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins
||*Paul Benedict as Tucker "Smitty" Brown
This Is Spinal Tap was only a modest success upon its initial release. Audience feedback cards from early screenings had comments such as "Too shaky. Get new cameraman." However, the film found greater success, and a cult following, after it was released on video.
Since its release, This Is Spinal Tap has received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1984. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 stars out of 4 and wrote "This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest, most intelligent, most original films of the year. The satire has a deft, wicked touch. Spinal Tap is not that much worse than, not that much different from, some successful rock bands." Ebert later placed the film on his ten best list of 1984. The film currently holds a 95% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Critics praised the film not only for its satire of the rollercoaster lifestyles of rock stars but also for its take on the non-fiction film genre. David Ansen from Newsweek called the film "a satire of the documentary form itself, complete with perfectly faded clips from old TV shows of the band in its mod and flower-child incarnations" (qtd. in Muir 31).
Even with cameos from Billy Crystal and Patrick Macnee, Spinal Tap still managed to trick many of its moviegoers into believing the band existed. Reiner admits "when Spinal Tap initially came out, everybody thought it was a real band... the reason it did go over everybody's head was that it was very close to home" (qtd. in Yabroff par. 1).The cover for Shark Sandwich, one of the band's earlier fictional albums
The movie cut close to home for some musicians. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Jerry Cantrell, Dee Snider and Ozzy Osbourne all reported that, like Spinal Tap, they had become lost in confusing arena backstage hallways trying to make their way to the stage. Singer Tom Waits claimed he cried upon viewing it and Eddie Van Halen has said that when he first saw the film, everyone else in the room with him laughed as he failed to see the humor in the film. "Everything in that movie had happened to me," Van Halen said. When Dokken's George Lynch saw the movie he is said to have exclaimed, "That's us! How'd they make a movie about us?" Glenn Danzig had a similar reaction when comparing Spinal Tap to his former band The Misfitssaying, "When I first saw Spinal Tap, I was like, 'Hey, this is my old band.'"
In 1982 a young music fan went to a record store signing where Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne and Rudy Sarzo were sat behind a desk. "I went to a record store in Manhattan where Ozzy, Rudy & Randy were doing an album signing. It was right out of Spinal Tap. Those three, a store clerk, myself and a couple of friends were the only people in the store. They were waiting for someone to come into the store for the signing and no one, not one other customer beside us. Needless to say, I took full advantage, ended up getting to speak with Randy for about thirty minutes. Incredibly humble and nice guy. I had mentioned that I was studying classical guitar, and he came around the counter and we went off to the side to discuss composers, techniques and pieces I was working on."
On Pete Townshend's 1985 album White City: A Novel, the back cover describes Pete Fountain, a "famous guitarist" visiting the title location, as seen by an old childhood friend. When Pete mentions an incident where his drummer complained that "the caviar in their dressing room was the wrong viscosity - for throwing," the friend notes "This is Spinal Tap is obviously a true story."
Lars Ulrich told a press conference crowd that the Metallica/Guns N' Roses 1992 tour seemed "so Spinal Tap." This tour was in support of Metallica's own "black album". Shortly after the tour started, Metallica's James Hetfield suffered third degree burns on his arms after he stood too close to a pyrotechnic device. Earlier in that tour, backstage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Show, Metallica met with Spinal Tap and discussed how their "black album" was an homage to Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove. This was captured on the Metallica DVD A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica.
In a 1992 interview, Nirvana explains declining the offer to be a part of the movie Singles. Kurt Cobain goes on to say, “There’s never really been a good documentary on rock and roll bands.” Dave Grohl then cuts in saying, “Except for Spinal Tap, was the only rock movie worth watching.” Which Kurt agreed with, as well as mentioning Don’t Look Back, by D.A. Pennebaker.
According to a 1997 interview in Spin magazine with Aerosmith rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, "The first time Steven [Tyler] saw it he didn't see any humor in it." When the movie was released, Aerosmith's most recent album, Rock in a Hard Place, depicted Stonehenge prominently on the cover.
It became a common insult for a pretentious band to be told they were funnier than Spinal Tap. As George Lynch put it, the more seriously a band took themselves, the more they resembled Spinal Tap. After seeing a 1986 performance by British metal band Venom, singer Henry Rollins compared them to Spinal Tap. In their respective Behind the Music episodes, Quiet Riot's Rudy Sarzo and Ratt's Robbin Crosby compared their own bands to Spinal Tap to some extent. For example, as a parallel to the "Shit Sandwich" incident, Quiet Riot's fourth album Condition Critical was given the two-word review of "Condition Terminal" by J. D. Considine in Musician magazine. His review of the short-lived band GTR's eponymous debut LP in the same magazine was "SHT." R.E.M.'s Mike Mills described early tours as "very Spinal Tap", citing, among other things, the fact that they had indeed played at a United States Air Forcebase. According to Harry Shearer in the Criterion edition DVD commentary, keyboard player John Sinclair had just returned from touring with Uriah Heep when principal photography was about to begin, and told them how they had been booked to play an air force base. They subsequently used the story in the film.
U2 guitarist The Edge said in the documentary It Might Get Loud that when he first saw Spinal Tap "I didn't laugh, I wept," because it summed up what a brainless swamp big-label rock music had become.
In the Pearl Jam documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, the band members jokingly refer to the fact that while the core lineup of the group has remained unchanged (singer Eddie Vedder, guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassistJeff Ament), the band has had five drummers. The band members describe this as 'very Spinal Tap of us'. In the documentary a mock silent film called the Drummer Story is shown explaining what happened to their previous drummers. In the silent film one of them is almost eaten by a seamonster only to be rescued by Eddie Vedder who plays a lifeguard.
In 2008, Empire magazine ranked This Is Spinal Tap number 48 on its list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. The New York Times also placed the film on their list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. In January 2010, Total Film placed This Is Spinal Tap on its list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. When Entertainment Weekly compiled their list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, the publication included the film as "just too beloved to ignore". In 2011, Time Out London named it the best comedy film of all time.
American Film Institute recognition
- 2000: 100 Years... 100 Laughs #29
- 2004: 100 Years... 100 Songs (Official Ballot) for the song "Big Bottom".
- 2005: 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes (Official Ballot) for the quote "These go to eleven".
This Is Spinal Tap has been released twice on DVD.
The first release was a 1998 Criterion edition which used supplemental material from the 1994 Criterion Laserdisc release. It is their only double sided DVD in their catalogue. It included an audio commentary track with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer; a second audio commentary track with Rob Reiner, Karen Murphy, Robert Leighton and Kent Beyda; 79 minutes of deleted scenes; Spinal Tap: The Final Tour, the original twenty-minute short they shot to pitch the film; two trailers that feature Rob Reiner showing a film about cheese rolling (because "Spinal Tap" itself was still in the editing room); a TV promo, Heavy Metal Memories; and a music video for "Hell Hole". Sales of this edition were discontinued after only two years and the DVD has become a valuable collector's item. Much of this material had appeared on a 1994 CD-ROM by The Voyager Company that included the entire film inQuickTime format.
In 2000, MGM Home Entertainment released a special edition with more or less the same extras from the Criterion edition, plus a new audio commentary track with Guest, McKean and Shearer performing in character throughout, commenting on the film entirely in their fictional alter-egos, and often disapproving of how the film presents them; 70 minutes of deleted scenes (some of which were not on the Criterion DVD); a new short, Catching Up with Marty Di Bergi(where it is revealed that the members of Spinal Tap were very disappointed in Di Bergi for making a "hatchet job" of their film); the Heavy Metal Memories promo and six additional TV promos; music videos for "Gimme Some Money", "Listen to the Flower People" and "Big Bottom"; and segments of Spinal Tap appearing on The Joe Franklin Show. The special features were produced by Automat Pictures. However, this version of the film was missing the subtitles that appear throughout the film (for example, introducing band members, other personnel, and location names) and did not include the commentaries from the Criterion edition. The MGM DVD is missing the subtitles burned into the film; they have been replaced with player generated subtitles.
A 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc release was released on July 28, 2009. It includes all bonus features from the MGM DVD plus an interview with Nigel about Stonehenge and the band's Live Earth performance. It does not include the commentaries from the Criterion Collection DVD, even though MGM had stated that they would be included in the earliest press release for the Blu-ray version (most likely due to legal issues). Additionally, it does not include the promised "create your own avatars" features. However, this version does restore the subtitles that introduce band members/locales/events/etc. that were missing from MGM's DVD.
Harry Shearer, who played Derek Smalls, went on to become one of the main voice artists on The Simpsons, providing voices for Principal Skinner, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders and many others. Spinal Tap's members voiced cartoon versions of themselves in "The Otto Show".
The Internet Movie Database's ranking for This Is Spinal Tap is on a scale from one to eleven, rather than their usual scale of one to ten, paying homage to Tufnel's amplifier that can be turned up to eleven instead of ten, a popular idiom that was popularized by the film.
This well known scene was also used in some news reports on the death of James Charles "Jim" Marshall, founder of the famous amplifier company whose equipment is featured in the scene.
- Break Like the Wind (1992) album
- A shorter made-for-TV sequel, The Return of Spinal Tap, was released in 1992 to promote Break Like the Wind. It consisted mostly of footage from an actual Spinal Tap concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It featured an appearance byThe Folksmen, a fictional folk music trio also created/performed by Guest, McKean, and Shearer.
- This Is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion (ISBN 0-7475-4218-X) was published in 2000. It featured a "Tapistory", full transcript of the film (including out-takes), a discography, lyrics and an A–Z of the band.
- Back from the Dead, 2009 album
- Unplugged and Unwigged, 2009 live DVD of Guest, McKean, and Shearer performing songs from their various works