The year is 1982. The members of the British heavy metal band Spinal Tap–Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls–have reunited and recorded a comeback album titled ‘Smell the Glove’. Marty DiBergi, a television commercial director and longtime Spinal Tap fan, is on hand to film the events surrounding the album’s release and accompanying tour for the documentary, or ‘rockumentary’ as DiBergi calls it, This is Spinal Tap.
At this point in my review, I should issue a message of caution: music fans who have never heard of Spinal Tap shouldn’t rush out and scour the WRL catalog for the album. It doesn’t exist. Originally released in 1984, This is Spinal Tap is in reality a brilliant and hilarious parody of the heavy metal genre starring Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel, Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins and Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls. Marty DiBergi is played by Rob Reiner, who also directed the film.
In true documentary style, DiBergi follows Spinal Tap from England to America as he offers a no-holds-barred look at the history of the band and their promotional work for the new album. In candid interviews, the band members discuss Tufnel and St. Hubbins’ childhood friendship, early incarnations of the band called the Originals and the Thamesmen, and the untimely deaths of all their drummers. Along the way, Spinal Tap’s comeback is met with several potential setbacks: their record company hates the album’s cover art; at one venue, the band members get lost backstage; and a Stonehenge-themed performance goes awry when the key prop fails to measure up to expectations. Throughout the film, the band’s indefatigable optimism remains intact, even when it looks like the comeback is in danger of falling apart.
This is Spinal Tap does a great job of spoofing the pretensions and excesses of the heavy metal genre without being mean-spirited. Much of the credit for this goes to the stars of the film. They are also responsible for developing the concept of the film and writing the screenplay, and I think they created a group of memorable, well-developed characters. The members of Spinal Tap are so likable and sincere, if a little misguided at times, that you can’t help but root for them to succeed in their quixotic quest to reclaim their former glory.
In the years since the release of This is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest has gone on to write and direct several other successful documentary-style parodies including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.
Check the WRL catalog for This is Spinal Tap