“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel, they’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries, it’s like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”
‘This is Spinal Tap’, directed by Rob Reiner in 1984, is an American mock-documentary. The film follows a fictional heavy metal band called Spinal Tap as they tour America. The band consists of leads David St. Hubbins, played by Michael McKean, Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest, bass player Derek Smalls, played by Harry Shearer, and a revolving series of drummers who all meet with macabre and fatal accidents. The film parodies the pretentiousness of the concept rock of the 1970s by offsetting it against the clueless idiocy of the band members. The group are shown to be completely insulated from real life and absorbed by their own fame. Reiner’s movie is ground-breaking in the way it not only satirises the music industry, but also the adulation of the rock documentary, the fly-on-the-wall capturing everything the subjects don’t want captured approach has been copied by countless portrayals of buffoonish monsters from David Brent to Donald Trump, but this is one of the first and best examples. For a movie that is laser-sharp with its satire, ‘This is Spinal Tap’ is also filled with authentic and, at times, good music. The quality of the band is just sufficient to tread that tightrope between parody and pastiche, and the scenes showing them perform, particularly a moment where the band emerge from cocoons on stage, apart from Smalls who finds himself trapped for the whole song, are the highlights of the film. These are balanced against equally acute scenes of interviews with the band members, each conversation becoming increasingly surreal.
Would I recommend it? It’s a finely crafted and sharp comedy that launched a genre. Watch in a double bill with any of the Monty Python movies for a fun evening.