Marty DiBergi: (quoting a review) "This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry." Nigel Tufnel: That's just nitpicking, innit?
Marty DiBergi's This is Spinal Tap (1984) is one of the greatest rockumentaries of all time. It may not be about one of the legendary bands, but it's a more intimate portrait than would have been allowed if it were about a more well-known band. It really gets inside the head of these rockers, and has more heart than any of those other rock films which consist mostly of filler between the concert scenes.Not even Tennessee Williams could have written a better character study.For those of you who don't know Spinal Tap, they're a hard rock band that's been making some of the loudest heavy metal music around for years. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls, and a long line of drummers, are musical geniuses. Even if you don't know the band, you know their hits, like "Big Bottom" and "Stonehenge".The movie chronicles what may have been their darkest time; their infamous US tour in the early 1980s. They nearly broke up, but they proved that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and they came back strong, despite all the mishaps and mismanagement.For those of you who truly believe in The Power of Rock, this will affirm it like nothing else.note Alright, so it's actually a Mockumentary spoofing the egos and mishaps of other rock stars, starring Michael Mc Kean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner who also directed. It's become a cult classic, with the actors making appearances elsewhere in character, and three real-world in-character albums by the band.
"These tropes go all the way to eleven":
Achilles in His Tent: Due to worsening circumstances on the tour, and increasing personality conflict with David's girlfriend Jeanine, Nigel leaves the band in the middle of the show; only to return during the band's final performance to reunite them for a tour of Japan.
Affectionate Parody: As ridiculous as the movie makes rock music in general and heavy metal in particular look, Guest, McKean and Shearer do themselves enjoy the music, which is reflected in the obvious effort they put into writing the soundtrack.
Arson Murder And Jay Walking: Marty DiBergi, at the introduction of the movie: "I remember being knocked out by their, their exuberance, their raw power... and their punctuality."
Batter Up: Ian keeps a cricket bat around for use during "management disputes".
In a deleted scene, Ian uses the cricket bat to strangle a geeky, irritating concert promoter - which is shown briefly in the final film's "cricket bat" montage.
Brick Joke: Early in the film, it's revealed that Spinal Tap's drummers die in mysterious ways, including once by spontaneous human combustion. In the epilogue, the drummer explodes.
British Rock Star — The band is made up of lads from England, with various accents, questionable fashion sense, and a love of fun.
The Cameo: In spades, many before (some during) they played notable characters in other TV & film, in so that some appearances could count as a Hey, It's That Guy!:
Concept Album: Parodied multiple times, once with an album of "religious rock songs" inspired by the Book of Genesis, and again with the band's ongoing work on a "rock opera inspired by the life of Jack the Ripper".
Contemptible Cover: Though never actually shown (although easily found online), the original cover of Smell the Glove is described on no uncertain terms as representative of this.
Dead Man Walking: Given the band's unfortunate history with drummers, Mick Shrimpton realizes he's likely one of these. Late in the movie he explodes on stage during a performance.
Defictionalization: In spades. The actors perform in character in live shows. They've recorded three albums, made music videos, and appeared on countless radio and TV shows. They even have a feud with Marty DiBergi about their portrayal in the film, going so far as to take offense that people find the film humorous. DiBergi has at times responded to these claims. Their audio commentary on the Special Edition DVD is also fully in character, arguably constituting a movie in its own right. The song "Gimme Some Money" was even covered for a Citi Bank commercial!
The venues they play in the movie are fictitious. However, in 1989 an actual Shank Hall opened in Milwaukee. Their logo includes a miniature Stonehenge and there's a shrine to Spinal Tap in the club.
Also, amps that actually go up to eleven are now available.
You can buy "Nigel's Skeleton" Shirt online.
In many ways, Spinal Tap has become so iconic that the boundary between real and fiction is blurred for many fans and performers of the genre, even if only to maintain The Masquerade.
Double Entendre: "Big Bottom", about the singer's love of his girlfriend's large rear end, features one of these.
How can I leave this behind?
DVD Commentary: The original commentary for the film released on DVD by Criterion was played straight. For the commentary when MGM re-released the film on DVD twelve years later, Guest, McKean and Shearer do the DVD commentary in character, and spend most of it ripping director DiBergi for the "hatchet job" he produced.
Fake Band: Spinal Tap was not an actual band at the time of the film's creation, though it has been Defictionalized.
Fake Brit: Harry Shearer and Michael McKean. Christopher Guest, on the other hand, has dual American-British citizenship and is now a British Baron. The accents of the cast were apparently good enough to fool British audiences.
Follow the Leader: invokedThroughout their history, Spinal Tap seem to be in the habit of jumping on the bandwagon for whatever the latest musical trends are, such as the British Invasion, psychedelic folk-rock and, most recently, glam metal.
Gag Penis: Subverted with Derek Smalls. In the MGM commentary, David is amused at the fact that Derek wrapped the zucchini in aluminum foil.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: An In-Universe example, as Spinal Tap's latest album unexpectedly proves to be very successful in Japan, leading to a much more successful tour in that country (where metal is very popular in real life). This trope is actually sometimes called "Big in Japan" in the music industry.
Glory Days: As much as the band might try to convince themselves otherwise, these days have clearly passed for Spinal Tap at least outside of Japan. The venues are getting smaller and are selling less tickets, only one person comes to get their new album autographed (with the clear implication that it's also not selling well), and overall the general vibe is that Spinal Tap are well past their prime.
Heavy Meta: Parodied with the song "Heavy Duty (Rock And Roll)".
Hešvy MŽtal ‹mlaut: Parodied: the umlaut goes over the N, producing a letter than is only used in Jacaltec (a Mayan dialect), Malagasy, and Cape Verdean Creole. Inverted with the dotless "i", which occurs in Turkish.
David:37 people have been in this band over the years!
Hit Me, Dammit!: After a poor showing at a record signing, Artie Fufkin demands this of the band. ("I'm not asking you, I'm telling you! Kick my ass!")
Hypocritical Humor: A montage example, at the beginning when teenaged fans at a Spinal Tap concert are being interviewed. An Ambiguously Brown male fan tells the interviewer that "Heavy metal's deep; you get stuff out of it." He is followed a few seconds later by a blonde girl who remarks that she likes "the way they dress, the leather."
Improv: The vast majority of the dialogue in the movie was improvised. Basically, the cast were given extensive back-stories and character sketches, and turned loose in front of the camera. Reiner shot several hours of footage, and distilled the best parts down into the movie. A couple hours of additional footage were included on the DVD releases, while quite a bit more circulates on a bootleg three-VHS set. This basic set-up was used by Christopher Guest to make a his own improvised mockumentaries, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration and used many of the original cast members.
As examples, the sequence when the band comments on reviews of previous albums (including the rather terse review of Shark Sandwich) and the scene where David & Nigel are asked about the first song they ever wrote, "All The Way Home", are improvised by Guest and McKean, prompted by the questions coming from Reiner.
After the release of the film, Black Sabbath's 1983 tour featured a Stonehenge set that was also marked up with the wrong measurements on the schematics (meters instead of feet, resulting in a 50' tall stone instead of a 15' tall stone).
Boy George got stuck inside a ridiculous huge prop onstage during a number.
David has a line where he'd been planning on doing a collaboration with the London Philharmonic. Something like 20 years later, Metallica came out with "S&M," a live album featuring the band playing alongside the San Francisco Symphony.
One of Spinal Tap's drummers died in a "bizarre gardening accident"; Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro was reported to have died after inhaling insecticide that he had been spraying in his garden. However, coroners later put his death down to a heart attack due to cocaine abuse.
Between 1983 and 1984, Marillion burned through three drummers in rapid succession after firing Mick Pointer before finally settling on Ian Mosley. Notably, they did this in between two albums.
In the film the band's album Shark Sandwich is given a two-word review in Rolling Stone: "Shit Sandwich." Years later, Quiet Riot's fourth album Condition Critical was given a similar two-word review in Rolling Stone: "Condition Terminal."
In 1992, the German heavy metal band Headhunter released an album titled A Bizarre Gardening Accident.
There are now guitar amplifiers that actually go to 11... and beyond. Marshall released models in the 90s with '11's on the faceplates specifically to replicate the ones in the film. Extends to some audio recording equipment too, with SSL mixers' monitor (speaker) volume settings and Pre Sonus audio I/O interfaces headphone settings.
Authentic metal legend Ozzy Osbourne is on record as saying that This Is Spinal Tap is a worryingly accurate portrayal of what it was like being a rock star in the 1980's. Specifically, although it hadn't happened to him, he describes the scene where the band get lost backstage and claims that he "could all too easily imagine that the same thing had actually happened" in real life, among other examples.
Heart's Ann Wilson said that she watched it and said, "Oh my God, that's me!"
KISS's Gene Simmons has said that the "Hello Cleveland" sequence happened to Kiss, though the specifics were different. Their dressing room was on the fourth floor, and they went down to the first floor because that's where they thought the stage would be and found nothing. They tried the second floor, nothing. Meanwhile, they could hear themselves being announced on the third floor.
Re. the commment —>David:37 people have been in this band over the years! Coincidentally, this is about the same number of personnel who have been with space rockers Hawkwind over the life of the band. And a cursory look at the Hawkwind personnel list shows a disproportionate number of these were drummers. Hawkwind's stage sets and lasers were also so ambitious they blew the fuses at many venues.
Members of Jethro Tull played a prank on their frontman, Ian Anderson, during one of their concerts. They lowered an 18" model of Stonehenge from the ceiling in mid-song, and the roadies danced around it.
Lyrical Dissonance: All over the place, but the most prominent example is a delicate piano piece entitled "Lick My Love Pump."
Mandatory Unretirement : A real-world example, as Guest, McKean and Shearer have to periodically bring out the Spinal Tap characters - either through a one-off concert appearance (such as their appearance at the 2009 Glastonbury festival), a full concert tour, a TV appearance (such as Nigel's interview on Stonehenge for the Discovery Channel), a new video/DVD release, etc. - or the rights to the characters revert from them back to the film's holding company.
Metal Detector Checkpoint: A hilarious example when Derek Smalls sets of an airport metal detector because he has a foil-wrapped zucchini tucked in his pants.
Guest and McKean note in the Criterion DVD commentary that the archetype of the long-lived British band whose star power has faded, but yet continued to ride their fame and grind out tours year after year, calling out Status Quo in particular, formed much of the inspiration for Spinal Tap.
Noodle Incident: One former drummer is said to have perished in "a bizarre gardening accident".
Nigel Tufnel: Authorities said... best leave it... unsolved.
Another former drummer appears to have somehow choked on someone else's vomit.
The band members are shown with cold sores at some point, without any explanation. A deleted scene reveals that Spinal Tap's opening band for the tour has a female singer with a cold sore.
Oblivious to Love: Nigel obviously has a bit of an obsession with David - whether it's just a case of serious bromance or an actual romantic crush - and is rather devastated when David's girlfriend comes to join the tour. However, David simply doesn't see it, and is mistified as to why Nigel is constantly giving her hate-filled glares and trying to make fun of her at every opportunity (although Jeanine does seem to have an inkling)..
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: To a British ear, Harry Shearer's most of the time. McKean's strays into Australian on occasions. Listen to how he says "purpose" in particular! Chris Guest's accent is pretty flawless — he's British-American of course, and is actually a hereditary peer (The 5th Baron Haden-Guest) on his father's side.
Product Displacement: Marty's cap in the film says "USS OORAL SEA". This is because the Navy would not allow the film to feature the USS Coral Sea's name. A quick adjustment to the cap and it was fixed. The MGM commentary makes fun of it, pondering where the USS Ooral Sea was located.
Pilot Movie: When they were given seed money to pitch the film, the cast (being unsure how to put the style of the movie across) instead of filming scenes or developing production concepts, shot a complete twenty-minute film, Spinal Tap: The Last Tour, as their 'pitch' instead. Some sequences, such as the performance of "Gimme Some Money" are lifted from the original short film. It appears only on Criterion's long out-of-print pressing of the DVD, not on MGM's more recent pressing.
Production Posse: This film originated Christopher Guest's production posse for his own mockumentary films.
The Quiet One/The Stoic: Compared to Nigel and David's egotistical flouncing, Derek is incredibly humble, quiet and unflappable.
The Rock Star: Three of them, in fact, though more in their own heads than in reality.
Rule of Funny: Why would a British band be confused by the 24 hour clock? Well, this is Spinal Tap we're talking about.
Running Gag: The band playing before ever smaller crowds in ever lamer venues as the tour goes along. By the time they reach California, they're performing before only a couple dozen people at what looks like either Disneyland or Magic Mountain (now Six Flags Magic Mountain).
The Stonehenge monolith is 1/12 its intended size and in serious danger of being knocked over by a dwarf.invoked
The embryonic pod that froze shut trapping Derek Smalls during the band's performance of "Rock and Roll Creation".
Spontaneous Human Combustion: The fate of three of the band's drummers—one whom is said to have gone up in "a flash of green light," leaving "a little green globule" on his drum seat, and two more who explode on the band's tour of Japan.
David St. Hubbins: You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported.
Stealth Parody: Perhaps partially due to the fact that the Mockumentary was a little-known genre at the time, many people assumed that the film is a real documentary, apparently missing all the talk about spontaneous human combustion.
Too Awesome to Use: Nigel tells DiBergi that the most treasured guitar in his collection "can never be played" (or touched, or pointed to, or looked at). Truth in Television: that particular instrument is Fender Bass VI, a six-string bass guitar, of which only some 300 were produced - and which indeed are Too Awesome to Use even in real life. Tufnel's bass guitar is one of only two instruments which exist in the Sea Foam Green colour in the Real Life. Also Tufnel's '59 Gibson Les Paul, which are approximately as expensive as Amati violins today.
Too Dumb to Live: Granted, Tap's drummers tend to die at an incredible pace, but Mick is shown in one scene in a filled bathtub with a plugged in toaster on the side of the tub.
Too Soon: Many Real Life musicians found this film a bit too close for comfort at the time of release.
Tragic Hero: A depressing undertone of the movie is that Hubbins and Tufnel are genuinely talented composers and musicians, but squander their talents due to their immaturity and infatuation with the "rock star" life. One scene in particular has Nigel showing the director his latest piece, a beautiful piano instrumental, citing influence from a range of classical composers. He calls it "Lick My Love Pump."
Trope Codifier: This film was shot in 1982, one year before Quiet Riot released Metal Health, the first best-selling album to be universally referred to as "metal." As a result, This Is Spinal Tap can be credited with popularizing a number of metal tropes, particularly Heavy Mithril and Rock Me, Asmodeus!
By the time of the 2000 DVD commentary, David had brought himself to agree that Ian's argument for the black cover 'looking like death' ("Death sells") was accurate.
Unbuilt Trope: Some of the most memorable scenes have Spinal Tap performing songs that arenít strictly heavy metal but that owe their existence to subgenres of rock music that strongly influenced metal, including rockabilly ("Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight") and rhythm-and-blues ("Big Bottom").
Yoko Oh No: An in-universe example. Janine (David's girlfriend) takes over Faith's job of managing the band and does such a piss-poor job that it nearly results in the band breaking up.
Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: One band member's inability to remember how to write measurements in the imperial system results in a stage prop of Stonehenge smaller than the dwarfs they've hired to dance around it. (Specifically, he confuses the abbreviations for feet — an apostrophe — and inches — two apostrophes.)