Cine-East Film Club Presents #19: 1982, This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)

by George_East on August 18, 2013

David St Hubbins (to Ian Faith): ‘you’re not paid to be as confused as Nigel’

Friday was the 36th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.   Graceland had a live video feed to his graveside (which Jackie and I visited in 2007), according to a tweet by the NME.   It brought to mind the greatest of all tributes to the King, that of the Tap during their legendary 1982 tour of the United States, when a visit to Graceland put everything into perspective.

This Is Spinal Tap is this week’s Cine-East Film Club Presentation – a presentation I’d like to dedicate to Ray, Jackie and Bobby.  I see it as our collective film.

This Is Spinal Tap is one of those films so dear to me, and that I have seen so many times that it is hard to know what to say about it.   I think the reason it works so well, the reason why it is so much better than other parodies of particular worlds, is that it is fundamentally warm hearted.  It likes its characters and as a result so do we. Nigel Tufnell, David St Hubbins, Derek Smalls and the rest might be ridiculous and lacking in self-awareness to an absurd degree, but they aren’t bad.   We kind of want the Tap to succeed even while their career spirals down the toilet (at least until they strike it lucky and are once again big in Japan).

The scenes interspersed throughout the film in which Marti di Bergi (Rob Reiner) interviews the band about their history are the match of any actual documentary (or if you will, rockumentary) we have ever seen:  The Thamesmen, Listen To The Flower People, the tragic deaths of the band’s drummers, the reviews of the classic albums are so wonderfully realised, that it is only the spontaneous combustion and the bizarre gardening accidents that take it outside of the bounds of the real.  If no heavy metal band of a certain vintage called an album Intravenus De Milo, it is only because they didn’t have the wit to think of it.

And that maybe is another clue as to why the film is so great – it only strays just the other side of the plausible.  It is so funny and so re-watchable because you can genuinely imagine an overblown stage show with pods that a band member gets trapped in (Yes used just such pods), or a band getting lost backstage trying to find its way from its dressing room to the stage.   Even Stone Henge is something you feel a prog rock band was only a concept album idea away from in the 1970s. If it is implausible now, in 2013, that a band would fail to know the difference between ‘sexist’ and ‘sexy’, that is to forget how far we have come.  In 1982, not so much.

Indeed its weaker moments (the air force base show, for example) are those that are least plausible.

Which all brings me back to the characters.  Each one a creation (and indeed a name) of genius.

Nigel Tufnell, axe hero supreme – with a guitar collection so precious that you can’t touch it, you can’t even look at it.  Amps that go up to 11 and solo gurning that would not be out of place in a Yorkshire village fair.   Nigel is though in his own way a creative genius, capable of the sensitive piano melodies of Lick My Love Pump as well as guitar pyrotechnics.

David St Hubbins, sensitive front man.  Former rock wildchild tamed by the love of a good woman, Jeanine.  His long flowing blond locks masking the genius lyricist of Big Bottom, Sex Farm and other sophisticated songs of love and passion.

Derek Smalls, the luke warm water between the two creative geniuses.  Laid back – though in his own George Harrison like way, a man of no little creative skill.  It is after all Smalls’ Jazz Odyssey (the blues jazz or is it blues jazz number) that will come to the band’s rescue after Nigel walks out.

Each of the three main band members are wonderfully realised and brilliantly played by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Sherear respectively.     There is a chemistry between them, that genuinely does suggest they have been on the road together for 15 years;   to the extent that it is kind of moving, when David nods to Nigel to join him on the stage at the end, healing the rift between them.

It is, perhaps with Casablanca, one of the most consistently quotable films ever made and with that classic Bogart film, some of the quotes have taken on lives of their own.  If Casablanca gave the world the endlessly adaptable ‘round up the usual suspects’ and ‘I’m shocked, shocked, there’s gambling going on in here’, This Is Spinal Tap is responsible for things going up to 11 (A* grades at GCSE for example), there being too much perspective and the unadulterated genius that is: ‘there’s a thin line between clever and stupid’.  It is a rare day that goes by when I don’t find need for one of these phrases.

Most importantly of all , it is one of the funniest films ever made – maybe the funniest.  The test of a truly great comedy is one that you sill laugh out loud at even though you know exactly what is coming and even though you’ve seen it umpteen times before.  This Is Spinal Tap is precisely one of those films.   I am even chuckling, writing about it.

So dust down Smell The Glove, take it out of its black mirrored sleeve (I mean how much more black could it be…), put it on your turntable, turn the amp up to 11 and enjoy The Tap in their full glory.

Or, if you think the Tap’s more recent stuff is a bit crap and hanker after the glories of Shark Sandwich and The Gospel According to Spinal Tap, then enjoy the majesty of Stone Henge, before it is crushed by a fucking dwarf.

Oops, I should watch my language, when I am in the presence of the King.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ray_North August 19, 2013 at 11:58 am

‘…. And we had a set that was in danger of being trampled by a dwarf…’
Genius.

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