This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

this is spinal tap poster 1984 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good mockumentary

Not my favorite of Guest's mockumentaries

Movie Info

Movie Name:   This Is Spinal Tap

Studio:   Spinal Tap Prod.

Genre(s):   Comedy

Release Date(s):   March 2, 1984

MPAA Rating:   R

this is spinal tap michael mckeon harry shearer christopher guest

Each of them probably thinks they are the “brains” of the group

Spinal Tap has just signed on to a big U.S. tour to promote their new album Smell the Glove.  Guitarists David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and bass guitarist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) are being filmed for their monumental tour by documentary shooter Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner).  Trip is on, but Spinal Tap is struggling.  Miscommunications, distribution problems, and booking issues could put the band’s tour at risk of destruction, but the arrival of Hubbins’ girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) could spell death for the band.

Directed by Rob Reiner (who also plays the fictional director within the film), This Is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary comedy written by Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer.  The film was based off a skit performed by Guest, McKeon, Shearer, and Reiner for a failed show called The TV Show in 1978 The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 2002, and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #12).

I love the mockumentary format.  The idea of everyone essentially playing straight men and the collision of these straight men for laughs is a great concept.  Everyone in a mockumentary doesn’t think they are being funny and that is the joy of the format…and it leads to laughs.

this is spinal tap stonehenge christopher guest

The mysticism of Stonehenge…at 18″

You have to consider This Is Spinal Tap kind of revolutionary at the time.  The idea of the mockumentary was an untapped idea, and Reiner and the others managed to infuse enough “real” documentary into the commentary to make it a believable documentary.  Since its release, the mockumentary style has exploded with shows like The Office and Christopher Guest’s other comedies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in ShowThis Is Spinal Tap preys upon the big haired, big venue performers of the day…something that newer viewers might not be able to grasp entirely.

The cast is great.  All three main characters are dense in their own way.  Michael McKeon and Christopher Guest (intentionally through the script) have the best chemistry and Harry Shearer is the friend that seems to hang-on.  You have cameos by a ton of actors like Rob Reiner himself, Ed Begley, Jr. Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Anjelica Huston, Fred Willard, and Paul Shaffer, and it just enriches the already strong cast.

this is spinal tap lost going to stage cleveland

Which way is the stage?

The mockumentary style is effective in part because of the natural look of the film.  This film deals with a lot of stylized imagery with “old” footage of Spinal Tap through all its incarnations.  It also has to look like someone is really shooting it, handheld, and following people who are “acting” naturally in the environment.  This Is Spinal Tap nails it all in this sense.

I will say This Is Spinal Tap is an original, but it isn’t my favorite of these formats.  I really enjoyed the films Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show and enjoy them more than This Is Spinal Tap, but I admire This Is Spinal Tap for its originality.  Most of the stars revisited the theme in Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind in 2003 which looked at folk singers.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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