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Film

This Is Spinal Tap

The talent of the cast astounds, their capacity for improvisation seemingly never-ending.

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The foil-wrapped zuchini in bassist Derek Smalls’ (harry shearer) pants made a scene at o’hare airport during the “Tap into America” tour in This is Spinal Tap.


This Is Spinal Tap

Directed by Rob Reiner

Playing at the Charles Theatre May 13 at 7 p.m., and May 16 at 9 p.m.

Arguably the crown jewel in co-writer Christopher Guest’s collection, This Is Spinal Tap, the “rockumentary” that sends up hair metal and rock docs of its day, fooled moviegoers in 1984 into believing the band Spinal Tap actually existed. The film’s ad-libbed monologues and deadpan gags, predating Borat and The Office by more than 20 years, make it a cultural touchstone for not only those who saw it in theaters but also for millennials.

Spinal Tap comprises three main members, all sporting shaggy manes: lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), acclaimed guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest), and Fu Manchu-ed bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer); as well as a deranged-looking keyboardist (David Kaff) and a infamous series of ill-fated drummers (an homage to the Grateful Dead’s many keyboardists, among other things). Completely oblivious to their has-been status, the British band embarks on a comeback tour of the U.S., as documented by American filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner).

Other than the absence of drugs or alcohol, all the marks of a Behind the Music-esque melodrama are spoofed, from personal spats to creative differences. David brings his big-mouthed blond girlfriend on tour, upsetting Nigel—his best friend since childhood—and disgruntling the band’s longtime manager Tony (Ian Faith). The band, finding their American reception to be underwhelming, brainstorms ways to reinvigorate the act over a dinner; Nigel has a stroke of genius, to create a mockup of Stonehenge, and scrawls a model down on a napkin. Tony grabs it up and has it made, but the dimensions Nigel denoted weren’t quite right, resulting in a miniature Stonehenge. The band has dwarves dance around it onstage. Another set mishap sees Harry Shearer’s Derek helplessly trapped in a plastic egg, trying to wrest his way out with his bass.

Guest, McKean, Shearer, and in some cases Reiner wrote the music for Spinal Tap, and the actors actually perform the numbers, which include “Lick My Love Pump,” “Hell Hole,” “Big Bottom,” and “Sex Farm.” The talent of the cast astounds, their capacity for improvisation seemingly never-ending. Fans have reportedly circulated a four and-a-half-hour bootleg copy of the unedited film—Reiner condensed it to 82 minutes—for many years. In 2002, the Library of Congress deemed the movie culturally significant enough to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry. Far from a shit sandwich, Spinal Tap looms large in the pantheon of mockumentaries.

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