More noise than signal

This is Spinal Tap

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

My mind fair boggles with the notion that there are people out there that haven’t seen, or at least heard, of This Is Spinal Tap, but I suppose the nature of humanity is that there’s about two hundred and fifty born every minute, none of whom, despite my repeated letters to the comptroller, have the genetic memory of watching Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockmentary. Government mandarins, man. You just can’t rely on them.

Michael McKean’s David St. Hubbins, and Christopher Guest’s Nigel Tufnel grew up together and formed a musical partnership that spans decades and several differing names, from “The Originals”, “The New Originals”, and “The Thamesmen”, scoring a few hits before finding their true calling. The band now known as “Spinal Tap” became the heavy metal monoliths of the seventies, although the eighties see their popularity on the wane.

The current iteration of Spinal Tap sees St. Hubbins on Lead Guitar, Tufnel on Lead Guitar As Well, Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls on bass, David Kaff’s Viv Savage on keyboards and R. J. Parnell’s Mick Shrimpton as the latest in a long series of short-lived drummers. They’re starting a tour in America to promote their latest album, “Smell the Glove”, not yet in shops due to their indefensibly sexist cover art preferences, which their long-suffering manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) must try to resolve while keeping the band’s egos suitably massaged.

They’re joined on the tour by director Rob Reiner as director Marty Di Bergi, charged with capturing the band in the way many a hagiographic tour documentary of the time would, however the band are drawing less than a tenth of the audience they’d grown used to, and aren’t happy about it, causing some bickering that only intensifies when St Hubbins’ girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) shows up with her astrological charts and designs on becoming co-manager.

It doesn’t help that amongst the parodies of the rock star problems, like Tufnel’s struggle with miniature bread, everything else is failing too. Their record label doesn’t want to promote them. The venues aren’t just smaller, they’re roundly inappropriate for their music, and there’s a small problem with the dimensions of their set dressing. Fractures in the band grow as some semblance of reality penetrates their bubble, with their manager and eventually Tufnel quitting. The remnants resign themselves to suddenly having more time for discarded projects, like a Jack the Ripper musical, until fortuitously their latest classy single, Sex Farm, hits big in Japan, giving the tour a much needed second wind. Well, first wind, really.

As with most comedies, it’s less of a plot as it is a loose framework to explore the characters and, well, take the mickey out of them, and it’s tough to predict if it will chime with your particular sense of humour, dear listener. For what it’s worth, I think this is as funny a film as I’ve ever seen, and I don’t find that it gets any less funny any of the multiple times I’ve gone back to it.

Endlessly quotable, if you’re looking to annoy people, this affectionate parody of rock ‘n’ roll superstars is most certainly recommended.