This Is Spinal Tap is an American 1984 rock music mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner about the fictional heavy metal music band Spinal Tap. The movie satirizes the wild personal behavior and musical pretensions of hard rock and heavy metal musical bands, as well as the hagiographic tendencies of rock documentaries of the time.
Reiner and the three main actors are credited as the writers of the movie, based on the fact that much of the dialogue was ad libbed by them. Several dozen hours of footage were filmed before Reiner edited it to the released movie. A 4 1⁄2 hour bootleg version of the movie exists and has been traded among fans and collectors for years.
The three main members of Spinal Tap—David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel—are played by the American actors Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, and English-American actor Christopher Guest, respectively. The three actors play their musical instruments and speak with mock English accents throughout the movie. Reiner appears as Marty DiBergi, the maker of the documentary. Other actors in the movie are Tony Hendra as group manager Ian Faith, and June Chadwick as St. Hubbins' interfering girlfriend Jeanine. Actors Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Drescher, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Ed Begley, Jr., Patrick Macnee, Anjelica Huston, Vicki Blue, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Brinke Stevens, and Linnea Quigley all play supporting roles or make cameo appearances in the movie.
In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.
Stylistically the movie is a parody of rock documentaries, purportedly filmed and directed by the fictional Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner). The faux documentary covers a 1982 United Statesconcert tour by the fictional British rock group "Spinal Tap" to promote their new album Smell the Glove, but interspersed with one-on-one interviews with the members of the group and footage of the group from previous periods in their career.
The band was started by childhood friends, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), during the 1960s. Originally named "The Originals", then "The New Originals" to distinguish themselves from an existing group of the same name, they settled on the name "The Thamesmen", finding success with their skiffle/Rhythm and blues single "Gimme Some Money". They changed their name again to "Spinal Tap" and enjoyed limited success with the flower power anthem "Listen to the Flower People". Ultimately, the band became successful with Heavy metal music and produced several albums. The group was joined eventually by bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff), and a series of drummers, each of whom mysteriously died in odd circumstances, including spontaneous human combustion, a "bizarre gardening accident" and, in at least one case, choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown. DiBergi's interviews with St. Hubbins and Tufnel reveal that they are competent composers and musicians, but are dimwitted and immature. Tufnel, in showing his guitar collection to DiBergi, reveals an amplifier that has volume knobs that go to eleven; when DiBergi asks, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" Tufnel can only reply, "These go to eleven." Tufnel later plays a somber quasi-classical music composition on piano for DiBergi, claiming it to be a "Mach piece" (a hybrid between Mozart and Bach), before revealing the composition to be entitled "Lick My Love Pump".
As the tour starts, concert appearances are repeatedly canceled due to low ticket sales. Tensions continue to increase when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove because of its sexist cover art and there is growing resentment shown towards the group's manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). Tufnel becomes even more perturbed when St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) — a manipulative yoga and astrology devotee — joins the group on tour, begins to participate in band meetings, and attempts to influence their costumes and stage presentation. The band's distributor, Polymer Records, opts to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover without consulting the band. The album fails to draw crowds to autograph sessions with the band. To revive interest, Tufnel suggests staging a performance of "Stonehenge," an epic song that is to be accompanied in concert by a lavish stage show, and asks Ian to order a giant Stonehenge megalith for the show. However, Tufnel, rushing a sketch on a napkin, mislabels its dimensions, using a double prime symbol instead of single prime. The resulting prop, seen for the first time by the group during a show, is only 18 inches high (instead of the intended 18 feet), making the group a laughing stock on stage. The group accuses Faith of mismanagement, and when St. Hubbins suggests Jeanine should co-manage the group, Faith quits in disgust.
The tour continues, rescheduled into smaller and smaller venues. Tufnel becomes marginalized by Jeanine and St. Hubbins. At their next gig (at a United States Air Force base in Tacoma, WA) Tufnel is upset by an equipment malfunction and leaves the group in the middle of a show. In their next gig, in an amphitheater at an amusement park (second-billed behind a puppet show), they find that Nigel's absence severely limits their repertoire. They are forced to improvise a fusion-esque, experimental song entitled "Jazz Odyssey", which is poorly received.
At the last show of the tour, as the group considers venturing into a musical theatre production on the theme of Jack the Ripper entitled 'Saucy Jack', Tufnel reappears and informs them that he is "a messenger" from Ian Faith and Sex Farm is wildly popular in Japan, in fact it's at number 5 in the charts there. He then tells David that Faith would like to arrange a new tour in that country. David is initially cool to the idea, but later, when on stage, David beckons Nigel on to join them and he grabs his guitar and plays with them onstage. David then gets caught up in the moment of the tour's final performance and not only allows Nigel to return, but rehires Faith back as manager as well. Despite losing their drummer Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell) as he inexplicably explodes onstage, the film ends with Spinal Tap playing a series of sold-out arena shows for enthusiastic fans on their Japanese tour.
|*Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins
||*Paul Benedict as Tucker "Smitty" Brown