This is Spinal Tap (1984)

ThisisspinaltapposterBy 1984, rock and metal had become so big that a new kind of culture had taken shape. This was the culture of hard rock and heavy metal that had been so embraced by rock fans at the time (and in the present day to some extent), and that was captured brilliantly and memorably in this film, even if it offers a rather glib portrayal of its subject matter.

The film concerns a fictional film director named Marty di Bergi (played ironically by the actual director) who follows his passion and makes a “rockumentary” about a seasoned heavy metal band named Spinal Tap, who by this point had made thirteen albums and are now embarking on a US tour to promote their next album. Along the way, the director meets the band’s long-suffering manager, and watches as the band sees through several mishaps as it struggles to make a foothold in the rock world, though a lot that is essentially the band’s fault.

The film spares no effort in lampooning the conventions of hard rock and heavy metal bands at the time, and also various attitudes towards the music scene. The film’s well-written plot shows you pretty much everything you need to know about the music industry of the time, even if it relied on the stereotypical image of metal bands. That being said, the film is more about the legendarily outlandish behaviour of rock stars, and the often hagiographic treatment of rock stars at the time.

As a band, Spinal Tap is shown as a competent, yet immature group of men who make decisions that they can’t really justify (like the famous amplifier that goes up to eleven), though for this film, it’s probably good that they aren’t a serious band. In fact, they’re a fun bunch of actors, sporting mock English accents for the role of a legendary rock band. Of course it’s the performance that’s ultimately more important, and this film is more known for its myriad of memorable moments and quotes. One of my favourites is the scene where there appeared to be a Stonehenge monument on stage that was in danger of being crushed.

Speaking of that, the producers did a very good job at presenting the film as a realistic rockumentary. If this were 1984, I would have thought that Spinal Tap were a real band. The writers certainly made the effort to write actual rock songs for the film, and even old-style music videos for the band’s daffy 60’s phase. The film is almost like a rock show, but with the band dancing madly on the lip of a volcano. The film’s documentary-style approach also lends a bit of realism to the film, and it makes the experience more enjoyable.

Of course, that shouldn’t distract from the real drive of the film. The film’s great humour comes from the band’s constant struggle to make it big, and their attempts to reason their way around it. For music fans such as myself, whether you’re into rock or not, I’d say the best part of the film is getting invested in this fictional band that, despite frequent mishaps (both on and off-stage) and the scorn of critics, still keeps going strong, always optimistic that their big break will come one day.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A
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