“These go to eleven…”
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michal McKean, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer
In a Nutshell:
Usually when choosing a quote for these reviews I try to pick something a bit more left-field than the obvious, but “these go to eleven” is really the only choice for This is Spinal Tap, despite a treasure trove of quotable lines in its brief 82 minute run time. That’s because “turning it up to eleven” is one of those quotes that has transcended the movie itself and has permeated our entire western culture – even people who’ve never seen Spinal Tap can be heard using the line.
Rob Reiner’s classic “rockumentary” about a gone-to-seed British heavy metal band is one of the funniest movies ever made. To list classic moments – which I make no apology for doing on this occasion – is to make Spinal Tap fans instantly reach for their copy to watch it all over again. So here we go, in no particular order:
Stone ‘enge. Lick My Love Pump. Smell the Glove – “None more black”. Malfunctioning alien pods and getting lost backstage. Spontaneously combusting drummers. The Originals and the New Originals. The Jazz Odyssey and playing second bill to a puppet show. It’s such a fine line between stupid and… clever. Too small bread. Too much fucking perspective. Shark Sandwich (“Two-word review…”) and Intravenous de Milo. And so on and so on…
If by chance you haven’t seen This is Spinal Tap and that last paragraph was just a bunch of words to you, I recommend that you rectify that shit right away!
Fading rock group Spinal Tap, headed by lead singer David St Hubbins (McKean) and spaced out guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest), are in the States to promote their latest album, Smell the Glove. Other band members include the laidback bassist Derek Smalls (Shearer) and drummer Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell), living in fear for his life because Spinal Tap’s drummers have a tendency to mysteriously explode on stage. Along for the ride is the band’s highly-strung, cricket-bat-wielding manager, Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) and filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (Reiner), who is making a documentary about the group.
The tour almost immediately runs into trouble when dates are cancelled and the promotion of the album is hindered by sexist cover art (“What’s wrong with being sexy?”) Tempers begin to fray as the concerts become ever more farcical. St Hubbins and Tufnell are childhood friends, but a wedge is driven between them when St Hubbins’ manipulative girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) joins the tour…
The core of the movie is the friendship between David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, and McKean and Guest are perfect as the loveable, airheaded rockers. They’ve been friends since they were kids and the two actors have such natural chemistry together that it’s totally believable they’ve known each other for decades. Much of the dialogue in Spinal Tap was improvised, and it’s a joy watching the pair riff off each other.
The rest of the cast have their standout moments too. Shearer as Derek Smalls is the band’s philosopher (“Like fire and ice…”); Reiner as the enthusiastic filmmaker Di Bergi (“I remember being knocked out by their exuberance, their raw power – and their punctuality.”); Hendra as perpetually harried Ian Faith (“It’s not a big college town”); Fran Drescher as the fast-talking records exec Bobbi Flekman (“You put a greased naked woman on all fours…”)
For all the ridiculousness of the band’s heavy metal posturing and absurdly sexist lyrics, This is Spinal Tap has the seal of approval from many real-life rockers, such as Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, Kurt Cobain and Dee Snider. For a true measure of its authenticity, just check out Anvil: The Story of Anvil, a documentary about a real Canadian rock band who are almost more Spinal Tap than Spinal Tap.
As for the songs themselves, it’s hard to pick a winner from so many classics. If I had to choose just one, it would have to be “Stonehenge”. Not only is Tufnel dropping his H’s all over the place in the hilarious opening monologue, but the song also accompanies one of the film’s most inspired set pieces. Without trying to give too much away, it involves dwarves and someone mixing up feet and inches…
Line for line and scene for scene, it’s hard to think of another film that packs in as many quality laughs and iconic scenes as This is Spinal Tap. It’s right up there with The Big Lebowski, Caddyshack and Withnail and I in the quotability stakes, which makes it a top priority for cult movie fans who have somehow managed to miss it to date.
Rating: You’ve guessed it – 11/11
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2 thoughts on “This is Spinal Tap (1984)”
This film can never have enough film reviews written. Just reading this makes me want to pull it out again and watch it. And I will!
Totally agree… I ordered my copy today after writing the review!
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