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 U.S. 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
Spinal Tap's back catalogue includes (but is certainly not limited to):
- Spinal Tap Sings '(Listen To The) Flower People' and Other Favorites (1967)
- We Are All Flower People (1968)
- The Incredible Flight of Icarus P. Anybody (1969) note
- Silent But Deadly (live - 1969)
- Brainhammer (1970)
- Nerve Damage (1971)
- Blood To Let (1972)
- Intravenus de Milo (1974)
- The Sun Never Sweats (1975)
- Jap Habit (live - 1975)
- Bent For The Rent (1976)
- Tap Dancing (1976)
- Rock 'n' Roll Creation (1977) note
- Shark Sandwich (1980)
- Smell The Glove (1982)
- Heavy Metal Memories (compilation - 1983)
- This Is Spinal Tap (soundtrack - 1984)
- Break Like The Wind (1992)
- Back From The Dead (2008)
All but the final three
are *cough* "out of print"
"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."
- Artistic License Ė History: Played for Laughs (obviously) in the "Stonehenge" musical number. In his introduction to the song, David refers to the Druids as "a very strange race of people", describing them as if they were early inhabitants of the British Isles. The Celts were early inhabitants of the British Isles; the Druids were just the educated priest class in Celtic society (they were a social and professional caste, not a culture).
- 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.
- At the end of the film, Ian is palming his cricket bat, staring menacingly down at Jeanine.
- Bittersweet Ending: Tap is still popular in Japan! But once again they have to put all their plans for the future on hold.
- 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.
- The infamous Stonehenge episode receives a call back nearly eight years later; In The Return of Spinal Tap, a DVD covering their touring of new album Break Like The Wind, they get a properly sized Stonehenge prop... which is naturally too big for them to get inside the venue.
- British Rock Star: The band is made up of lads from England, with various accents, questionable fashion sense, and a love of fun.
- Cheap Heat: Parodied - as the band gets lost behind the stage in Chicago, one of the band members yells "Hello, Cleveland!"
- Comically Missing the Point: After the Stonehenge debacle:
David: We had a Stonehenge monument that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!
Derek: We could redo the choreography. Keep the dwarf clear.
- The Comically Serious: Several characters, including Sir Dennis Eaton-Hogg, Jeanine, and (ironic given the actress who's portraying her) Bobbi Flekman.
- 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".
- Concert Film: Parts of the film are live concerts.
- 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 End Job: Drumming for the band, of course!
- 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.
- Department of Redundancy Department: "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight".
- On the "Back From The Dead" DVD, David explains that another band had done a song titled "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You," hence the necessity of an extra "Tonight".
- Deus ex Machina: The revelation that the band is still popular in Japan.
- 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. When MGM re-released the film on DVD twelve years later, Guest, McKean and Shearer recorded a commentary in character, spending 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.
- Follow the Leader: Throughout 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, chiefly thanks to Cheap Trick.
- 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)".
- Heavy Metal: The band's current phase in the movie is a parody of then popular "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal" bands like Iron Maiden.
- 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.
- Heavy Mithril: Parodied with "Stonehenge".
- High Turnover Rate: The band has gone through quite a number of drummers.
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."
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: "Sorry, but we need to go wait for our bus over there."
- 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.
- Intercourse with You: "Sex Farm", "Big Bottom"... actually a lot of their songs count as this. But that's metal for you.
- 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.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The released cover of "Smell The Glove".
"It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."
- Mockumentary: As often as "mockumentary" and This Is Spinal Tap get mentioned in the same breath, it might as well be the Trope Namer.
- Money Song: "Gimme Some Money" is a gold-digging little number, with lyrics like "Your face is OK / But your purse is too tight."
- The 90's 'Break Like The Wind' album has a number called 'Cash On Delivery'.
- Narm : In-universe with the Stonehenge scene.
David St. Hubbins: I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.
Ian Faith: I really think you're just making much too big a thing out of it.
Derek Smalls: Making a big thing out of it would have been a good idea.
- Never My Fault: Ian. He refuses to admit he should have noticed that the napkin said 18" and not 18'.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Apparently Reiner's DiBergi character is a goof on Martin Scorsese, who was a rather clueless interviewer in his 1978 Rockumentary about The Band, The Last Waltz.
- Nigel Tufnell is a loose parody of Eric Clapton, right down to his name. The writers arrived at the name "Nigel Tufnell" by combining a generic British first name ("Nigel" instead of "Eric") with the name of a posh London neighborhood ("Tufnell Park" instead of "Clapton Pond"), thus keeping the parallels relatively subtle.
- 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)..
- Only Sane Man:
- Debateably, Ian Faith, the manager who picks up the pieces and consistently puts up with the band's stupidity and egocentricity, he's pretty much the only reason Spinal Tap is able to function on their tour. When he finally quits, the band quickly falls apart. Indeed, the only reason the band gets back together is due to him taking notice of the band's success in Japan. He does have some bizarre affectations (such as his cricket bat).
- Bobbi Flekman is a more straight example. Every second when dealing with the band, she's barely repressing the urge to roll her eyes.
- 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.
- Overly Long Gag: Nigel's guitar solo. Not only is it horrible, but he even strums his guitar with a violin.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Quiet One/The Stoic: Compared to Nigel and David's egotistical flouncing, Derek is incredibly humble, quiet and unflappable.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: David and Nigel. Derek describes their complementary but conflicting personalities and musical instincts as "fire and ice", with him being somewhere in the middle, "sort of like lukewarm water".
- Retraux: The band's songs from The Sixties.
- 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). They're billed after a touring company of The Wiz and a puppet show.
- On the DVD commentary, every other scene is "the turning point".
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After being pushed too far by David and Janine following the disastrous Stonehenge performance, Ian tells her and the rest of the band to go fuck themselves and promptly quits.
- Nigel follows suit during the gig at the air force base after being frustrated by the sound interference and by extension the lousy gigs. Janine also seemed to have a hand in his irritation
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll:
- Mick Shrimpton says he literally lives for the three things and that if he gets kicked out of the band, sex and drugs will be enough for him to scrape by on.
- Viv Savage (on his epitaph): Have a good time all the time.
- The Sixties: Parodied with one of the band's previous hits, "(Listen To The) Flower People", which is done in the style of psychedelic pop bands of the time like Jefferson Airplane.
- Also, "Gimme Some Money", is a drop dead parody of Beatlesque pop and of The Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show appearance, right down to their bow at the end.
- Special Effect Failure In-Universe:
- The Stonehenge monolith is 1/12 its intended size and in serious danger of being knocked over by a dwarf.
- 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 who 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. In the DVD commentary, the band is happy DiBergi caught it on film, for insurance money's sake.
David St. Hubbins: You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported.
- Stealth Insult: Quite a few of them.
- 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.
- Stealth Pun: "Big Bottom" seems at first to be just another Stuffy Old Song About the Buttocks, but notice that the song features three bass players. In other words, it has a huge low end.
- Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks
- Stylistic Suck: The song lyrics are deliberately silly, though the songs themselves can be quite catchy.
- Team Mom: Jeanine believes herself to be this. In reality she isn't terribly good at it, and tends to create as many (if not more) problems as she solves.
- 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.
- 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!
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: The released cover of "Smell The Glove" gets played up as this in a scene. David doesn't buy it.
- 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").
- Unfortunate Implications: In-Universe. The original cover of "Smell The Glove".
"You should've seen the cover they wanted to put out. It wasn't a glove, I can tell you that."
- Unit Confusion: Nigel draws a sketch of Stonehenge with measurements he wants for the model. Unfortunately, he writes it in inches instead of feet, leaving the band with a Stonehenge prop that is dwarfed by a pair of dwarfs.
- Up to Eleven: The Trope Namer.
- Visual Innuendo: Just watch the way Nigel handles the neck of his guitar, particularly around David.
- 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. In fact, Janine was actually created as a parody of Yoko Ono.
- 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.)
- White-Dwarf Starlet: The entire band, although it's a parody.