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.

One thought on “This Is Spinal Tap

Speak your piece