This Is Spinal Tap

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #12: Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap.


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.


Cri­te­ri­on essay by Peter Occhiogrosso
The Unof­fi­cial Spinal Tap site
Spinal Tap mp3s
The Cri­te­ri­on Contraption’s review.

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