Sunday, May 2, 2010
Ode to a cult classic
"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."
-- David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean)
This Is Spinal Tap, starring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner is comedic genius. This 1984 film was the first to display the ad-lib talents of Christopher Guest & Co. The film is done in a documentary style (aka "mockumentary") with Rob Reiner in the role of filmmaker interviewing and following his subjects: British hard-rock band Spinal Tap on their latest tour. If you enjoy ironic comedy and have a healthy appreciation for rock n' roll, this one's for you. If you also know your rock n' roll history, you'll be especially rewarded . . .
McKean plays singer/guitarist David St. Hubbins. He's definitely the leader and his appearance is similar to Robert Plant (I don't know if this was intentional or not, but there are a lot of intentional references to actual rock bands, including Led Zeppelin).
Guest plays guitarist Nigel Tufnel. He's the most clueless of the bunch, but possibly the most talented musician (check out his hilarious piano solo). He and David have a close relationship, which becomes strained when David allows his girlfriend, Jeanine, in on band decisions. This is most obviously a reference to the Lennon-McCartney-Ono triangle. Some of the scenes with Jeanine are classic: "Dubly," anyone?
Shearer plays Derek Smalls. As the bassist, as is often the case in real bands, he is an after-thought. He's not the coolest one or the one getting all of the girls. He's just there.
Reiner, as I mentioned before, plays the filmmaker and interviewer of the mockumentary, Marty DiBergi. He is basically the counter-point to the ridiculousness that pervades the other characters. His observations and opinions are there for the viewer.
The movie turns the sincere into the absurd quickly, which can be acreditted to the fact that most of this movie was ad-libbed by the actors. Some of the physical comedy in this movie could rival current comedies such as 40 Year-Old Virgin. The characters are earnest, but in denial about their sad situation. Listen carefully to the dialogue and lyrics, read everything (t-shirts, signs), and pay attention for sight gags. The movie is layered: re-watching multiple times will reveal things you didn't notice the time before.
Bonus: you can play a game of spot-the-world-famous actor/actress (Billy Crystal, Anjelica Houston, Ed Begley Jr., Dana Carvey, and more have bit parts or cameos).
On a scale from 1 to 10, it's an 11.
Find it in the catalog!