In ancient times...
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people...
Well 25 years ago really, prior to the dawn of DVD lived Marti DiBergi and the band members of Spinal Tap - David St Hubbans, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls, Vic Savage and Gregg Bissonette. Managed by Ian Faith and brought to our ears by Sir Denis Eton-Hogg's production company, Spinal Tap evolved from a 4 piece Liverpudlian inspired combo to the Rock Gods which we know and love today. Who else has bottoms big enough to combine every bass player in the known universe to save the planet at Live Earth 2007. Who else has the stature to organise a world tour of only one gig, that's power!
In 1984 Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) went on the road with David St Hubbans (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), Vic Savage (David Kaff) and drummer Mick Shrimpton (R J Parnell); collectively known as Spinal Tap. Covering their latest tour of the US, the sights the smells, the highs and more often than not the lows in this acclaimed rockumentary; a sort of documentary about, and for, lovers of the rock world and the music.
Times seem to go from bad to worse for the ageing rockstars; gig after gig cancelled, hotels rooms booked in place of whole floors or suites, the lead singer's girlfriend suddenly appearing, joining the band on the road. The band implodes in a series of misadventures only the druids could have predicted and when all is about to be lost it seems as though Spinal Tap may have a chance be reborn in Rock Heaven... Japan. All that remains is to wonder what happened to John 'Stumpy' Pepys in that bizarre gardening accident and how Sir Denis Eton-Hogg spends his time at the summer camp for pale young boys.
Without a doubt the writing talents of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner coupled with the flowing direction of Reiner himself have left the movie going public with a spoof documentary which only gets better with age. Unlike other rock spoofs which are perhaps now showing their age, This is Spinal Tap has matured somewhat and even now, some 25 years after its initial release, still has myself and many others crying with laughter every time the band's dulcet tones are heard. Scripted from an initial appearance on Saturday Night Live every aspect of the eventual This is Spinal Tap has to be applauded. The actors not only wrote this piece, they also played the instruments, sung the songs and have carried on the whole Spinal Tap fact/fictitious universe via released CDs and even tours. In Tropic Thunder Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) indicates he doesn't come out of character until the DVD commentary is over. Tap take this one step further, pushing the envelope all the way to eleven, dipping in and out of their alter egos as and when needed. To continue this 'joke' over 25 years, and it never becoming stale, is a credit to their combined talents.
When initially released Spinal Tap never really set the box office alight, it is though since its release on video, DVD and now Blu-ray that Tap gained the ardent fan base that it now enjoys. Those fans eager to sit through numerous re-releases, that fan base continually extended from friend to friend and father to son; it is both the understated humour and the outright swipe not only at heavy rock bands but also music documentaries which make Spinal Tap the success it undoubtedly is. Some of the scenes seem innocuous on first viewing, but look deeper into the frame and you will find that intelligent writing permeates this film's very soul. Obviously a parody of some of the major rock bands to grace our stage... Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Van Halen, Yes, and of course Iron Maiden (and the often told but apparently untrue story that they walked out of the premier thinking the film was based on them). This film also has a sly poke at the documentaries which sometimes accompany them. Documentaries like the sometimes absurd parts of Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same, but more importantly taking a large swipe at Martin Scorcesse's excellent The Last Waltz. Nothing is sacred to these people, and in all honesty when it comes to parody then nothing should be either.
What makes this so pant wettingly funny is that the machinations of the band closely resemble the real world antics of real living people. Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) carrying around his piece of wood as Led Zeppelin's manager was accustomed to doing, the band getting lost on the way to the stage or complaining about the size of bread. However the songs McKean, Guest and Shearer wrote for Tap are not just excellent parodies, they are in fact somewhat better than the majority of heavy metal numbers to have ever graced vinyl and CD. As teenagers they obviously must have been listening to the likes of Led Zep, Deep Purple and perhaps Judas Priest, because their angst can be heard in those penned lyrics full of sexual connotations. No better place to live in a Hell Hole whilst working on that Sex Farm with your girlfriend who has the best bum cakes in town! Much like 'real' rock and roll it's pretty simple really isn't it, and that's why this whole package works so well.
Shot in true documentary form predominantly using 16mm cameras the film does have the look and feel of a real documentary piece and it has indeed been known for people to actually ask what the band are doing now. Some people have seen this and missed the joke, they think the band is in fact real. And really isn't that the biggest accolade you could say?
The jokes come thick and fast, the shared cold sore on Nigel and David's lips (from sharing girlfriends or more than likely sharing grass filled ciggies), David's surname being the patron saint of quality footwear, Nigel's collection of guitars that are so precious one cannot even be looked at for far too long, the naming of his musical piano piece and of course the band's infamous amplifiers which out rock all others simply by allowing them to crank the volume all the way to 11. That one joke in itself has lasted all these years and is continually being used not only by fans of the film but other production companies, advertising, Guitar Hero and even Doctor Who. The film is not about those one liners though, it's more a product as a whole and should be looked on as such.
There have indeed been other so called rockumentary films made, other digs at the heady world of rock music, Bad News and Walk Hard for instance, but even though Bad News was a good look at an up and coming band touring the clubs trying to make it famous no other mockumentary has scaled the Stonehenge like heights that Spinal Tap undoubtedly deserves.
This was the first full length feature that Rob Reiner put his hand to and is an incredible first outing, backed up of course by his partners' collaborative writing. Of course he went onto direct some other excellent comedy features and will probably be most remembered for When Harry Met Sally. Comedy though is not his only calling with Misery, A Few Good Men and Ghosts of Mississippi, and whilst all of his work cannot be credited as being top shelf it's always good to see a director try his hand at various genres.
It is an entirely different story for McKean, Guest and Shearer, all of whom have gone on to 'star' in other vehicles yet always return to Tap knowing full well that's what the hard core Tap fans require of them. A few here might be unfamiliar with the facial expressions of the lamb chop bearded Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) but bear in mind that Shearer has been one of the backbone voices of The Simpsons for the past god know how many years. He's currently voicing for Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Rev Lovejoy, Principal Skinner, Wolfcastle Renier and a host of others both regulars in the show and those not so. He's an incredibly talented man as are his comrades in arms. McKean has starred in a number of additional movies since Spinal Tap such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles whilst Guest has managed to get Little Shop of Horrors under his belt amongst others.
Obviously these two do not seem to have capitalised on their success as much as Shearer, but they still perform on Saturday Night Live from where they essentially came. They still write and tour and along with Shearer they perform both as Spinal Tap and their new band incarnation A Mighty Wind. As well as being accredited writers and performers all three are respected musicians in their own right and often play to the odd crowd here and there under their real names.
It is though for Spinal Tap that these three will be fondly remembered. They have given immense joy to a wide fan base, one which keeps on growing, one which now offers them financial rewards far above what was created when Spinal Tap was first released. This film is claimed by many to be the best comedy ever filmed, but as comedy is the most subjective of genres this may or may not be true for yourselves. For me it definitely is; I loved it the first time I saw it and I still do, still cracking up at jokes I have heard all too many times before. Comedy has rarely been any better and believe me if our rating system did go to eleven then I'd be giving this one a twelve.
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