This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

this is spinal tap

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

The Scoop: 1984 R, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer.

Tagline: Does for rock and roll what “The Sound of Music” did for hills

Summary Capsule: Follow this loony band around on a USA tour in the early 80s.

Justin’s rating: I’d be a rock star, except for the no-musical-talent thing…

Justin’s review: This film goes a long way to supporting my theory that Britain is just basically a big insane asylum where the inmates think they’re just being normal in a normal world. Those accents… tea time… thinking that Princess Di was actually hot… I guess I’m just not an American in love with British culture. But occasionally good things do emerge from those wacky islands, and This Is Spinal Tap has to be one of the best cult films to star a long-running rock band that goes on an American tour and has the entertainment industry equivalent of epileptic seizures.

Spinal Tap is a mockumentary about the legendary rock band during one of their tours. It’s a fragmented piece of fiction and truth, jolting between live concert sets (where the band members actually perform what you hear on the soundtrack), interview bits, and other slices of their abnormal lives. Yes, these are some strange dudes, and although I don’t want to use the word “antics” in this sentence, their antics are steadily amusing.

They discuss, with passion, about the role of forensics and vomit. They create elaborate sets for their concerts, only to become lost backstage and trapped inside cocoons. Nigel plays havoc with the airport security sensors.

It’s fun ’cause it’s not all false… yet, many scenes are preplanned (watch for cameos by Billy Crystal, among others). Their dysfunctional family unit handles problem after problem in atypical egomaniac fashion. Their manager quits, and eventually a band member leaves as well. Yet, amid the chaos, most of the members are quite calm and have a quirky sense of humor that takes an attentive eye to draw out.

I personally abhor rock stars and other celebrities who whine about small problems as if they’re monumentally devastating. If they’ll come over to my house and let me complain a bit to them, then perhaps I’ll willingly listen and stroke their id. My finger was posed to hit STOP on the remote if I detected even a hint of “I’m a star and have millions and get to know in the Biblical sense all of the Playmates of last year AND I stubbed my toe, boo-hoo!”, but Spinal Tap didn’t set itself on that lofty cloud. They really gave the sense of being regular Joes who are just extremely weird. And that’s good enough for me.

PoolMan’s rating: Now this is a Mutant movie!

PoolMan’s review: Let me clarify with a quick definition from Webster’s Dictionary of Ego Thumping Terms:

Mutant Movie (n): 1) a film, movie, or cinema containing all the elements of humour, sharp characters, interesting storyline, and the potential basis of a killer drinking game. 2) Justin’s unreleased autobiographical feature, also known as “The Day the Earth Stood Still and Kissed My Behind”

The second definition notwithstanding, This is Spinal Tap certainly fits the bill. Methinks DnaError went back in time to create this movie in the foreknowledge that one day, the Mutants would review it, and would love it. Am I making sense yet? Nope. Have I even really said anything about the movie yet? Double nope! All right, we’re two for two!

Justin’s outlined the “plot” nicely. I “quoted” “plot” to “point out” that the “plot” is really “nonexistent”, and the “movie” is more a collection of “events”. Okay, I’ll stop now. (damn, I’m being wierd today) Spinal Tap is really the product of its improvised roots, and works so well because of it.

I’ve often heard stories of Spinal Tap being played for real rock stars, and they don’t know that the whole thing’s just a joke. It’s just like real life for them, and they think it’s a real documentary. I suspect this is more or less an urban legend, but it sure is fun to think about, ain’t it? I can almost see Sammy Haggar crying along with the boys as their next video concept is described to them!

Really, this is the “Blair Witch Project” of the British Rock Invasion. It’s all about setting up as convincing a reality as possible while still winking at the audience. They even go so far as to show the roots of the band, complete with an Ed Sullivan-esque black and white bit, and a freaky ’60s love-fest flower power flashback. Or did I dream that? And Derek Smalls (Hank Azaria) is now officially one of my new heroes. That guy is way too funny. Like lukewarm water.

I still really haven’t said anything useful about the movie. Too bad. It’s rockin’ great fun, and I loved it, start to finish. You can’t do much better than that.

Oh, one last thing. The dwarves dancing around Stonehenge and bumping into each other? Comedic genius. Nearly peed me pants. Okay, I’m done. Oy!

Even if you’ve never seen this movie, you will have heard this reference.


  • Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean were given $10,000 to write a script, and made a 20-minute version of the film with the money to better demonstrate the improvisation they had in mind. Several scenes from this demo are in the final movie.
  • Napkins make great blueprint material
  • The original album cover

Groovy Quotes:

Marty: David St. Hubbins… I must admit I’ve never heard anybody with that name.
David St. Hubbins: It’s an unusual name, well, he was an unusual saint, he’s not a very well known saint.
Marty: Oh, there actually is, uh…there was a Saint Hubbins?
David St. Hubbins: That’s right, yes.
Marty: What was he the saint of?
David St. Hubbins: He was the patron saint of quality footwear.

[Nigel is playing a soft piece on the piano]
Marty: It’s very pretty.
Nigel: You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like – I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece, really. It’s sort of –
Marty: What do you call this?
Nigel: Well, this piece is called “Lick My Love Pump.”

Nigel: In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people… the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing…

Lt. Hookstratten: May I start by saying how thrilled we are to have you here. We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I’m not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll.

David: I, for one, do not think the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

Nigel: You can’t really dust for vomit.

Derek Smalls: We’re lucky.
David St. Hubbins: Yeah.
Derek Smalls: I mean, people should be envying us, you know.
David St. Hubbins: I envy us.
Derek Smalls: Yeah.
David St. Hubbins: I do.
Derek Smalls: Me too.

David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • More Spinal Tap


  1. I…want to like this movie. Really. But I don’t. Much. Will my mutantness be in danger of revocation for saying that I like Airheads more?

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