Criterion Sunday 12: This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

This wasn’t the first ‘mockumentary’ film to blend the documentary format with a fiction subject in a comedic way, but in many ways it set the standard for all subsequent attempts (including this year’s What We Do in the Shadows, as just one of many examples), not to mention much of writer/star Christopher Guest’s subsequent career. It also, rather more to the point given its thirty year vintage, holds up rather well, not something that can be said of a lot of 1980s films, let alone comedies. Part of that is to do with its target, the bloated pomp and self-importance of those within the music industry, which hardly seems to have diminished in subsequent years, and indeed many of the film’s plot points and characters are inspired by noted musical groups of earlier decades (the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in particular). Spinal Tap the band (formed of lead guitarist Guest, vocalist Michael McKean and bassist Harry Shearer along with a rotating array of drummers) typify many of the trends of the era, from baroquely introspective progressive musical noodling to hair metal and electro-pop, and exhibit the same boorish tone-deafness in each of them — though the particular way they manage to do so is part of the comedy, for they’re not by any means awful musicians. The corporate shmooze and unprofessional management also gets a kicking though, and the image of Spinal Tap’s public school-educated manager wielding his cricket bat is a difficult one to dislodge easily. It’s a film which is still held in high esteem for good reasons, and it remains consistently entertaining.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Rob Reiner; Writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Reiner; Cinematographer Peter Smokler; Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer; Length 82 minutes.

Seen at home (VHS), Wellington, December 1997 (and on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Sunday 7 December 2014).


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