This is Spinal Tap

Released:  1984

Cast:  Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, June Chadwick, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby

SUMMARY:  Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner) is a TV director who is now making a documentary about the British heavy metal band Spinal Tap; he is following them on their American tour to promote their newest album, Smell the Glove.  Di Bergi also conducts interviews with the various band members to fill in their background story.  The band was formed in the 1960s by David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest).  It went through several evolutions, both in name and musical genre, before settling into heavy metal and “Spinal Tap”.  The other members of the band have changed, although bass player Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) has been with the other two for a long time.  In particular, the group has trouble keeping a drummer, as they keep dying in strange accidents.  Despite the fact that most of them are around 40, the guys in the band continue to act like 20-somethings, showing little maturity or emotional depth.  At the American tour starts, the band is eagerly anticipating the release of Smell the Glove.  However, there is a major problem with this:  the desired cover art is extremely offensive, and the head of the record company refuses to release it.  The band does not understand what the fuss is about, but when the label head changes it to an all-black cover without telling them, they are furious.  A deep debate ensues about the subliminal meaning of the all-black cover.  As usual, manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) tries to promote the sunny version, but his attitude is beginning to wear on the band.  Since the start of the tour, gigs have been canceled due to low ticket sales, and there have been mix-ups with hotels.  The band blames the ever-positive Ian for these problems.

In addition to Ian, the band is joined on tour by David’s girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick).  June is very into astrology, and quickly begins trying to advise the group on new costumes and sets that will better play into their Zodiac signs.  While David seems to love every suggestion June makes, Nigel cannot stand them (or June), which he makes clear.  Instead of June’s changes, he suggests creating a huge model of Stonehenge as a backdrop:  this will be accompanied by their epic song of the same name.  He even sketches out his vision on a napkin, which Ian then gives to a designer.  Unfortunately, when drawing the piece Nigel wrote “18”” instead of “18′” (eighteen inches instead of eighteen feet), and the presented model is only a foot and a half tall.  With no time to spare, the group is forced to use this in their show, along with a pair of frolicking little people who are supposed to represent Druid children.  The event results in mass hilarity from the crowd, to the anger and dismay of the band.  After the show, they turn on Ian; when David hints that June should help manage the band, Ian quits, and June becomes the full manager.  The cancelations continue, and June books the band into smaller venues and gigs, including one at an Air Force Base.  Nigel’s relationship with June only worsens, and during the Air Force concert he gets angry and storms offstage, then quits the band.  The others vow to go on without him, but are limited in what songs they can play.  The result is an even bigger disaster than their previous shows.  This causes the remaining members, particularly David and Derek, to consider quitting the band and pursuing other dreams.  At their last concert, they seem to have decided that this is to be the final performance of Spinal Tap.  However, Nigel suddenly reappears and tells them that one of their songs is a big hit in Japan:  he was sent to tell them this by Ian, who wants to organize a Japanese tour.  David doesn’t appear to be interested, but during the show, as Nigel watches from backstage, David invites him to come out and rejoin the band.  Nigel does so, to much acclaim.  The band is then shown on tour in Japan, reunited and with Ian as their manager once again.  Their drummer has once again died mysteriously, but they have found another one, and are playing to much success in Japan.

MY TAKE:  This is clearly a spoof of every major band from the 60s and 70s — even a lot of members from those bands commented that the resemblance was accurate.  The most obvious gags are June, who is a pretty clear reference to Yoko Ono (although I’m sure there have been a lot of other women that came between band members), and the revolving door of drummers, which could be a reference either to the Beatles, whose original drummer was not Ringo Starr, or the Rolling Stones:  the Stones have had numerous drummers, and one of the original band members famously died under odd circumstances.  Apparently, issues like getting lost backstage actually happened to real bands, too.  To me, the funny part was the complete idiocy of the band members, and their unawareness of that.  Nigel famously tells the director that his amps “go to eleven”, and completely misunderstands a question about simply making ten louder.  The band has deep discussions on things like the meaning of an all-black album cover:  no one seems to consider that it might just be lack of usable cover art.  The fact that they can play a decent show is a little surprising, because they seem fairly incompetent.  They try to sound like old pros, but fail miserably.  Of course, this is really funny to watch.  The Stonehenge thing was hilarious, because it was totally Nigel’s fault.  This film is also notable for the number of famous cameos in it:  I noticed Billy Crystal, Anjelica Huston, Fred Willard (who guest-starred on The Golden Girls), and Fran Drescher, but Paul Shaffer, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Ed Begley, Jr., Patrick Macnee, Vicki Blue, Dana Carvey, Brinke Stevens and Linnea Quigley also appear.

RATING:  Funny, with decent music.

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