Anthony's Film Review

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

This satirical mockumentary of rock-and-roll succeeds in its realistic look...

In order to appreciate the humor of the 1984 comedy film This Is Spinal Tap, which is presented in the style of a mockumentary (fake documentary), one must first understand this simple fact about the rock band Spinal Tap: it doesn't exist. Actually, I shouldn't say it doesn't exist. Rather, I should say that it was first created as part of a sketch comedy show on television. Also, the band Spinal Tap may be British, but the three principal members of the band named David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls, and Nigel Tufnel are played respectively by American actors Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest (who holds dual American and British citizenship). But despite its fictional origin, Spinal Tap could exist as a real rock band simply because of the fictional This Is Spinal Tap that looks incredibly realistic.

This realism is evidence from the very first second of the movie. It begins with an introduction by the documentary's filmmaker named Marty DiBergi, who is actually played by the real director of this movie, Rob Reiner. Then it proceeds to show footage of Spinal Tap, whether on stage or during interviews with DiBergi. The look of this movie is so realistic that anyone who is unaware that Spinal Tap is a fictional rock band could easily assume that Spinal Tap is real and see this movie as a real rock-and-roll documentary. In fact, that is pretty much the real joke of this movie, not the funny moments within it.

Because this fake documentary looks so authentic, the movie is not the kind of parody where the jokes are so obvious and over the top. Rather, the jokes in This Is Spinal Tap are more subtle and could easily pass as embarrassing real-life moments that the band members allow to be included in the documentary. For example, Spinal Tap faces a bit of trouble when their latest album cover is deemed too sexist and various stores refuse to sell it. Later, the band attends a promotional event where they would autograph copies of their new album. The only problem: nobody shows up. Perhaps my favorite moment is when a model of Stonehenge to be constructed for a concert comes out totally wrong, because the model's dimensions were idiotically read in inches, not feet.

There is also subtle humor in the spontaneously sounding dialogue of the film. During their interview with DiBergi, the Spinal Tap members talk about the funny ways that past band members have died, such as choking on vomit (not his own, but someone else's, and it's not clear who) and exploding on stage. In another interesting scene, Nigel talks about his amplifiers and how their volume level goes up to 11, unlike standard amplifiers that go up to just 10. Why is this funny? Because one could theoretically tweak a standard amplifier so that the 10 setting is just louder than before. Otherwise, the film stays close to looking realistic while presenting such Spinal Tap hits as "Big Bottom" and "Hell Hole."

Overall, This Is Spinal Tap is mildly funny in terms of jokes within the film, but it's funnier in terms of its style and its mind game with the audience. I will admit that I'm not heavily immersed in rock-and-roll music, let alone rock-and-roll documentaries. But even if I'm not in the best position to understand the humor of This Is Spinal Tap, I still admire how this movie, being a mockumentary, really stands out among other comedy films. And I will also admit that Spinal Tap, as fictional as it is, seems like an interesting band churning out good music. With that, I am giving this movie 7 out of 10 stars. (As interesting as it may sound, I am not going to rate it out of 11.)

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about This Is Spinal Tap, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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