Kayla's Pick: This Is Spinal Tap
Are you a fan of The Lonely Island’s film, “Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping”? Do you like metal music? Do you like making fun of popular culture through parodies and satire? Well, I have the mockumentary for you. Ladies and gentlemen, direct from hell: “This is Spinal Tap” (1984).
Spinal Tap, a British heavy metal band, is promoting their newest album, “Smell the Glove,” by touring the United States. Marty Di Bergi, the film’s fictional director, has decided to follow them during their tour to create a documentary about the band, their origins, where they plan on going and what they’re doing now.
Problems arise for the band when their ticket sales are low, requiring some of the shows to be canceled. The difficulties continue when many retailers refuse to sell the album because of its sexist cover. These things, along with a host of other issues, create tension among the band members, the management and others working on their tour.
This film juxtaposes interviews with band members and the crew with footage from their live shows. Oh, and did I mention that this is not a real documentary at all? Totally fake. Pretty much no truth whatsoever.
Why “This Is Spinal Tap” Matters:
A good amount of the film was spent talking about the album cover of “Smell the Glove.” The controversy around this album was supposedly inspired by the cover art for Whitesnake’s “Lovehunter.” I’m not going to go into details here, but all you need to know for now is that the described images for both album covers are quite sexist and highly degrading toward women, perpetuating the idea that “sex sells.” Magda Kay, who specializes in marketing and communication, states that sex can be beneficial in marketing due to our brains’ paying attention to food, danger, and sex in order to survive. Kay also says that this instinct is extremely hard to ignore. Though I don’t think the writers of “This Is Spinal Tap” were trying to make a statement for or against lewd artwork for the sake of sales, I do believe they purposely included it in order to get people to think about this.
Many famous musicians during this era, such as Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page, said that the film reminded them of their own lives and experiences. Some musicians, like Tom Waits and The Edge from U2, said they wept when they first saw “This Is Spinal Tap.” The Edge said, “The first time I ever saw it, I didn't laugh. I wept. I wept because I recognized so much and so many of those scenes.” Harry Shearer, who plays Derek Smalls in the film, said, “We do love that, the musicians who have said, ‘Man, I can't watch “Spinal Tap,” it’s too much like my life.’ That's the highest compliment of all. It beats all the Oscar nominations we never got.”
“This Is Spinal Tap” was preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002 because it is perceived to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The National Film Registry protects these films through a Congress law that “prohibits any person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to the public a film that has been materially altered, or a black and white film that has been colorized and is included in the Registry, unless such films are labeled disclosing specified information.” As of December 2016, there are 700 titles on this list.
The Good + the Bad
I’m the type of person who really enjoys parody. I am also fascinated by films that make social commentary. I think that “This Is Spinal Tap” did a good job of presenting serious issues in a manner that was still ridiculous and fun. A lot of the film has commentary on sexism in the music industry and the frustration that comes with being a musician. There were a lot of wonderfully ridiculous one-liners that made the film so great, such as, “What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn't he have rested on that day too?”
This film is not family friendly. Not in the slightest. Do not bother sitting with your grandma and watching this. Unless your grandma has a taste for the raunchy. There’s a lot of sexual references and images and 36 f-bombs, along with an array of other colorful words. And of course, what would the '80s be without smoking and drugs? So unless your fam is chill, I don’t advise sitting with mom, dad and your little siblings to watch this. Find a roommate or a friend instead. Or just don’t watch it if those things bother you. That’s a good idea too.
The Fun Facts
“This Is Spinal Tap” was not originally a crowd favorite. Many people thought that this was an actual documentary and took everything in it very seriously, causing it to flop. However, it has since developed a cult following and has gained popularity.
On IMDb, most films receive their rating based on a scale of 1-10. “This is Spinal Tap” is an exception: its rating scale goes up to 11.
A great deal of the dialogue was improvised, creating over 100 hours of footage. There are various cuts of the film, the longest being approximately four and a half hours.
Though this is a mockumentary, Spinal Tap is a (sort of) real band. Spinal Tap is a parody band created by the same people who play the members of Spinal Tap in the film. They have released three albums, the most recent of which (Back from the Dead) was released in 2009.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this a fun fact, but the Spinal Tap actors have an open lawsuit against Universal Music Group and Studiocanal for supposed underpayment of music royalties from the original film and the music surrounding it. The court case is a bit hard to explain in a short few sentences, but it’s extremely interesting; if you’re a fan of media law, you might want to check this out.