Thursday, April 18, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "THIS IS SPINAL TAP"


THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)

Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer & Rob Reiner



Hello, I’m David Baruffi. I’m a screenwriter/blogger, who’s occasionally directed things in my head and I use to work part-time amateur comedy writer. I’m a bit of a stand-up philosopher as Mel Brooks once put it.  You remember like, ten, twelve years ago, when there was that joke about how all straight women want to have sex with Angelina Jolie, I wrote that joke, originally. I didn't get it patented in time, so everybody takes credit for it now, but originally, it was me! Anyway, I’d like to invite you watch one of the best mockumentaries of all-time, the story of the loudest band on Earth. It was directed by commercial director Marti DiBergi, (Rob Reiner) and most of the material in the film was completely improvised by it's stars. At bass, the lead singer, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), at lead guitar/bass, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and at the double bass, Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), together, they are, the legendary British rock band, Spinal Tap! It’s the journey of their first American tour in six years and the trials and tribulations on the road. The behind the scenes drama of touring, like the date cancellations, hotel room services, the gig-to-gig travel and public appearances, and all of the other aspects of the rock’n’roll lifestyle. Plus, there will be tons of actual performances of some of the greatest and most memorable his Spinal Tap songs, like “Big Bottom,” “Sex Farm,” "Hellhole" and the rare footage of the epic-length, live performance of fan favorite, “Stonehenge,” an arena rock spectacle, you have to see to believe! The drama, the suspense, and even the romance, of being an internationally renowned rock’n’roll stars. Look back at the history of Spinal Tap, how they started as a '60s hippie pop band, and they're incredible rise to superstardom! Look back as they reflect on the members of the band, who've passed on, and watch them now, as they make their worldwide legendary comeback! Watch with suspense as the band is backstage right before they go on to another sold out show, trying to find the stage. See the groupies, drugs, and many of the other rock’n’roll trademarks. You even get to watch the band as they work through the process of creating new material. And, as a special treat, watch as Spinal Tap plays to an audience of U.S. Army soldiers as they pay tribute to the troops. And watch interviews of the band members and their closest companions, their lovers, their agents, and get a rare eyewitness view of the personal lives, what it truly means to live while being rock’n’roll superstars, as they share their personal thoughts on many interesting topics, and see the secrets of their musical genius. Don’t wait, to see “This is Spinal Tap.” If you show up early enough on Saturday at Mania Videos and Records, you’ll get to meet Spinal Tap, who will autograph their controversial new album “Smell the Glove,” and copies of “This is Spinal Tap,” and meet their new drummer. So see, “This is Spinal Tap,” and when you do, remember to crank it up, to eleven, 'cause, as Nigel say, it's one louder! 

I thought about leaving this Canon of Film review, with just the above paragraph, and I could actually, and probably not give it a second thought, but it's also important to put "This is Spinal Tap" in context. It was Rob Reiner's feature film debut, and remains one of his best films. The mockumentary format wasn't exactly new, that was either invented by Fellini or Woody Allen depending on when you want to count, but the rockumentaries they were making fun, actually in hindsight, don't seem that difference than "...Spinal Tap". Even, newer ones always seem to hearken back to it. Even the songs, as cartoonish as they kinda are, actually are about as good or even better than some of the popular pop/metal songs of the era. The format was so beloved by Christopher Guest, that he made a trio of them himself, starting, "Waiting for Guffman", "Best in Show", the best of his films, and "A Mighty Wind", which also is loosely based on a music group originated by the trio of McKean, Guest and Shearer, the Folksmen. The story, as I said, is about a tour, but they're not the legendary rock band they believe, or want to believe they still are, or ever were, but about three guys who desire most to continue living the rock'n'roll dream. They absorb everything that they think it means to be a rock star, but they aren't so much actual rock stars, as they are, emulating their heroes, even as they can't even get top billing to a puppet show anymore. On the edges of the screen, the mockumentary format reveals in looks and angles what characters are really thinking. When Nigel finds out that David's girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) is joining the tour, his heart sinks. He's got a crush on David. Not a gay crush necessarily, but a crush of admiration, and anything that gets in the way of that, might as well be Yoko Ono to him, (Sorry, Yoko) especially when she ends up firing their manager, and taking over, what's left of a tour. There's also a surprising amount of cameos in great memorable roles. The P.O. record company publicist, Bobbi Flekman, is one of the first major part Fran Drescher is known for. Angelica Huston has that great bit where she's the set designer, that, because of an error in measuring, leads to one of the funniest jokes in the film, as a performance goes from the serious to the inept, in a heartbeat. "This is Spinal Tap", above all things is one of the funniest movies of all-time, and it's influence is still being felt today. I've noticed that a lot of people, who don't get the TV show, "The Office", also didn't fully understand "This is Spinal Tap". In fact, when my grandparents used to run the Video Tyme in Boulder City, NV, they put the movie in the music section. It wasn't until years later, when the movie ranked on AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Comedies, did she discover that it wasn't an actual music documentary. The format is great, because it is one of the best examples of a first-person storytelling perspective, even though Marti Dibergi, seems strangely missing during the latter half of the film. Nowadays, that structure's being used, and overused in horror films, but it really can be told in any genre if you get the right people actors. "This is Spinal Tap" does many rare things, especially for a comedy. It's a look back into a zeitgeist of an era, while actually making fun of it. It was only going for the latter, but it actually is a good representation of the '80s rock culture. It happens to be a good musical, and the music actually led to actual tours and albums for Spinal Tap. It also gives us a look inside the business of rock'n'roll. How it's marketed and created. It's also about three people, who thrive for fame, and work at keeping it. They don't work well at it, but they do work at it. You might only notice the comedy, and great lines like the ones about the armadillos in their trousers, or the drummer who mysteriously died by choking on vomit, that wasn't his, but there's surprising amounts of emotional depth in "This is Spinal Tap", and that's the real reason it's one of the best of all comedies.

Oh, and I actually do contend that I invented that Angelina Jolie joke. It's old now, it's not funny anymore, but it was funny as hell at the time. 





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