This Is Spinal Tap
1/26/2004 - Review by: Frank Hill
This Is Spinal Tap - Movie review
United States, 1984
U.S. Release Date: 3/2/84
Running Length: 1:22
MPAA Classification: R (Profanity, mature themes)
Main Cast: Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer
Even though it's set within the framework of a late-70's heavy metal band, I think that "This Is Spinal Tap" (ST) is still the best metal-related movie ever made. There isn't much to compare it to with "Trick or Treat", "Decline and Fall of Western Civilization pt. 2" and "Rock Star" being the few well-known metal movies out there. Really, "Tap" works outside of being a genre-based look at the metal world as a comedic lampoon that targets everything from the central characters to the entire musical industry. Recently, it was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2002.
Played up as a filmed "rockumentary" on a long-lived heavy metal band in it's declining years trying to tour America once again, ST throws in every rock-n-roll cliche for parody. Historical flashbacks and running gags add to the depth of its satiric reach and strong characterization keeps it from being just a series of skit playing. Each personality, from pretentious, new-agey lead singer David St. Hubbins (McKean), to the brain dense, haircut-challenged lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest) to imperturbable, luke-warm bassist Derek Smalls (Shearer), plays themselves up as realisticaly as possible and despite the mockery, its tone is reverential toward excessive heavy metalisms and as good-natured as those who can laugh at themselves.
Of particular note is the dialog, which instead of being spoon-fed one line at a time, overlaps and interrups like normal conversation. There's a lot of subtle items to catch in there that only a concentrating ear and repeated viewings will pick up. The songs themselves are also absurd, generic gems of musical hilarity with lines like "You're too young and I'm too well hung" from "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock Ya" and "Sex farm woman | Don't you see my silo risin' high" from "Sex Farm Woman". If you can't crack a smile at the pompous disaster of "Stonehenge" or the their history of perishable drummers, then life is way too grim for you.
Musically and culturally set in 1982, ST could be quite foreign to the current generation of metalheads who grew up on the music and images of modern metal and MTV's "Jackass", but with all respect, the same issues that plagued the early bands still dog the bands of today. Most bands out there can relate to negative reviews, band member strife, travel problems, etc. and many a band from yesteryear have claimed that the Tap story could have been their own VH1 "Behind the Music" band biography.
Over the years the scenes and dialog in Tap have become oft-repeated by fanboys. Interestingly, such a cult following developed around the movie that the actors (who appearently played their own stuff) were invited to the Ronnie Dio "Hear n' Aid" sessions, eventually "reunited" as a true band, released a second music CD and went on a real tour. To this day with the DVD, comedic pieces are still added to the ST legacy.
Spinal Tap stands the test of time with it's well-crafted broad commentary and outlook. Do yourself a favor and tap into the great classic comedy that is Spinal Tap.
--Frank Hill 01.26.04
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