This will be short since I don’t know if I’m capable of speaking critically about a film that is so near and dear to my heart. In a sense, its execution was prescient, though rockumentaries like The Song Remains The Same and the minutiae of the lives of ’70s supergroups were common when Spinal Tap appeared, there was no way to predict that its focus and satire would be just as applicable a decade later when VH1 started making a This is Spinal Tap for every dude that’s ever tuned a guitar. This is so potent that every VH1 Behind the Music becomes a joke in its shadow.
Making a fake documentary that remains believable as a doc yet hilarious and heartwarming is no mean feat. Where standard fiction films can get away with leaving out certain visual details, and true documentaries have them supplied with no effort, a mockumentary must be planned down to the placement of the last pimento-stuffed olive and trampy, incoherent fan. This is completely nailed by the creative talent behind the film. From the drugged-out keyboardist’s exact placement always visible on the periphery and included seemingly only as an afterthought, to the string of drummer deaths and unintelligible artistic blatherings and ribald adolescent lyrics of the creative talent of the band, a composite is created that encompasses the entire State of Rock of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Echoes of Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Beatles and psychedelia ring throughout and couple with the desperation and addiction to celebrity in such a way that the petty humanity of these larger than life characters is exposed. In this light, the achievement of This Is Spinal Tap is ultimately more humanist than comedic. The comedy serves the humanism. Christopher Guest and company succeed so well in their mockumentaries because ill-intentioned mockery has no place in their films. They poke fun at what is most ridiculous because those are the very traits that they love the best.