No 48 - This is Spinal Tap
Director - Rob Reiner
Spinal Tap is always going to be an important film, in that it brought us really great, influential, iconic comedy that was improvised. The improvisation thing is what is really impressive, because like Anchorman (another moment of improvisatory genius), this film is so utterly quotable. It makes you wonder how committees who are meticulously writing scripts can fail to get the zest and the laughter than some people can just invent on the spot. The acting is also brilliant, creating fabulous performances which deliver these amazing moments in a brilliantly subtle and understated way. It makes the film believable as an (albeit ridiculous) actual 'rockumentary'. However, before I go on to talk about some of the performances from comedy greats in this film, I want to begin by talking about Rob Reiner's role as fake documentary (and advert) director Marty DiBergi. For most of the film it is fairly understated, asking questions and sagely nodding as the band riffs around him. I imagine that for most of his time on screen, his biggest challenge was to keep a straight face when confronted with the insane improvisation. But his biggest triumph is his introduction. The fabulous level of awkward arrogance on display as Marty DiBergi talks about his film. My favourite bit being where he goes to cross his arms and instantly changes his mind, abandoning mid-cross.
Now it might be that Rob Reiner is genuinely uncomfortable in an acting role, but I think it is just a wonderful little performance.
As soon as the film starts though we are left to the mercy of the Tap. This is where Christopher Guest's Nigel Tufnel and Michael McKean's David St Hubbins shine as the driving force of Spinal Tap. However, there is also the excellent Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls, who whilst being a fairly background member of the band (though still in the all important central trio) has a lot of the best comic moments.
"You can't dust for vomit" he says at one point to describe one of the (many, many) unfortunate deaths of Spinal Tap drummers. Or the fabulous moment where he has to remove a foil covered cucumber from his pants when going through a metal detector. Or the point where he is trapped in his pod for the duration of the set. He is even the guy that utters the immortal "Hello Cleveland" in one of the film's greatest comedy moments.
This is the problem with this blog, I don't want to just sit there and list the film's iconic moments. But there are so many that deserve mention. Personal favourites are the Tiny Stone Henge and almost all of Nigel's little moments that he shares with the director. When left on his own you see how petulant and stupid he can be.
From his sulk about the size of the bread in his dressing room, through to his beautiful piano piece (excellently titled 'Lick My Love Pump') - seen here performed by a sprightly (and somewhat annoying) person.
However Nigel's shining moment is when guiding Marty through his guitar collection. Each ridiculous anecdote about the guitars leading up to Spinal Tap's most famous moment "This goes up to 11".
Rumour has it that Marshall released an amp that went up to 11, in tribute to the film. So Christopher Guest had a new on made, that went up to infinity. These little moments of arrogance are what makes the film so brilliant, it is what makes the humour so much cleverer than Anchorman. For the world of Anchorman is stupid. The whole thing is stupid. Here the world is real, there is a surprising level of realism in the way that society treats the rockstars who are starting to fade out. Protecting them from the cruel outside world.
This just helps to build Spinal Tap out as a bunch of very naive idiots, who are struggling with their own inadequacies.
This struggle becomes all the more evident when the film's surprisingly serious 'Yoko Ono' subplot creates a rift between David and Nigel. Because for all the talk of the band, for all the (truly fabulous and at times balls out genius) songs, for all the spectacle this is a film about a really long friendship and the rivalry and turbulence which is part of it.
And I don't know what else I can say about this. Just that it is very funny, but doesn't thrust it at you... and at the end, it is very moving.