Monday, January 2, 2012

Hello, Cleveland!

This is Spinal Tap, written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner; directed by Rob Reiner; starring Rob Reiner (Marty DiBergi), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls) and Tony Hendra (Ian Faith) (1984): One of the three or four great, fake documentaries of all time, This is Spinal Tap follows heavy-metal survivors Spinal Tap (who started life as Beatlesque quartet The Thamesman in the 1960's) on an ill-fated album release tour in the United States.

After this would come further forays into faux documentary by Guest, McKean, Shearer and friends that would include SCTV alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. This is Spinal Tap still seems like the best of these productions, in part because it seems so organic and lived-in, in part because it's got some of the great lines of all time..."It goes to eleven"..."There's a fine line between stupid and clever"..."None more blacker"..."I call it 'Lick My Love Pump.'"...and some of the great fake songs of all time, along with screwed-up concert footage, the band getting lost under the stage in Cleveland, the Stonehenge disaster, and two suspicious cold sores.

It's a hallmark of how great the film is that one forever after uses it to explain ridiculous rock-and-roll moments that happened after the film came out. U2 seem even more gormless than Spinal Tap when they too visit Elvis's grave in their horrible, pretentious, utterly real documentary Rattle and Hum. Bono seems like David St. Hubbins writ larger, and the Edge like Nigel Tufnel.

The Stonehenge sequence parodies a host of ridiculous concept albums and accompanying overblown stage shows, but it also anticipates David Bowie's subsequent Glass Spider tour and album, the latter of which opens with a portentous spoken-word bit that makes Spinal Tap sound clever and concise by comparison. And the band's desire to do a rock-opera about Jack the Ripper really doesn't seem as stupid as it should after Paul Simon's mega-flop The Capeman, a doo-wop Broadway musical about a real-life teen-aged killer of two teen-agers.

And of course there's the parade of drummers, a surprising number of which have the nickname "Stumpy." And the cameos, the best of which may be Paul Shaffer as an unctuous PR guy, though Fred Willard also has a killer bit during the band's low point. To quote Marty DiBergi, but enough of my yakking. Highest recommendation.

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