“How much blacker could it be? None, none more black.”
Documentary maker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) goes on the road with ageing British heavy metal band Spinal Tap and sees them lose drummers, purpose and all sense of self-respect.
The nucleus of Spinal Tap is David St Hubbins on vocals and guitar, Nigel Tufnel on guitar, Derek Smalls on bass and Viv Savage on keyboards.
Amongst the drummers who perished while in the band were; John ‘Stumpy’ Pepys (who died in a bizarre gardening accident); Eric ‘Stumpy Joe’ Childs (who choked to death on vomit – but not his own!); Peter ‘James’ Bond (who spontaneously combusted on stage); Mick Shrimpton (exploded in a puff of green smoke on stage at the end of the comeback tour); Joe ‘Mama’ Besser (disappeared under mysterious circumstances – presumed dead) and Ric Shrimpton – Tap’s 13th drummer – currently still alive.
Before settling on the name Spinal Tap, the band had already rejected the names; The Doppel Gang, The Ravebreakers, The Silver Service, The Bisquits, The Love Bisquits, and The Tufnel-St Hubbins Group.
Four years in the making, Reiner’s cripplingly, unerringly funny classic has become the benchmark for spoof cinema.
Spinal Tap fans treasure favourite routines and lines: Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) trapped in a stage pod or setting off an airport metal detector with the foil-wrapped pickle in his underpants; the band getting lost backstage as they try to reach an eager audience (“Hello, Cleveland!”); the undersized Stonehenge triptych descending to be “in danger of being crushed by a dwarf”; the blank looks of the band when confronted with their backlist of bad reviews or a radio DJ’s classification of Spinal Tap as “currently residing in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file”; the arguments over the offensive cover of the Smell The Glove album; Nigel (Christopher Guest) taking us on a guided tour of his guitar and amp collection (“These go to eleven”); “It’s called Lick My Love Pump” . . .
And the film features a fine collection of masterly cameos, from Fran Drescher as publicist Bobbi Flekman (her clones are still working in the business) to Bruno Kirby as the Sinatra-loving limo driver, with microbits from Billy Crystal and Dana Carvey as mime waiters (“Mime is money!”).
Copping the Yoko thread from the 1970 film Let It Be, Spinal Tap delivers a genuine plot as childhood friends David St Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel fall out when David’s girlfriend Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick) worms her way into the band as manager, displacing the long-suffering Ian Faith (Tony Hendra), who memorably characterises the dim girl as dressing “like an Australian’s nightmare”.
It’s an achievement that after an hour of jokes at the expense of the crassness and stupidity of Spinal Tap, with hideously accurate parodies of the strutting pretensions of the dinosaurs of rock (Big Bottom, Sex Farm), the film can manage to wring some emotion out of the threat that the band will break up.
McKean (whose London accent is letter-perfect) has a great acting moment as he becomes so angry and hurt at his friend’s betrayal that he can hardly speak.
Harry Shearer has said “Some musicians have said they couldn’t watch it, that it was too painful, too realistic . . . that’s the greatest compliment the movie could be paid”.
“I’d be a lot more upset if I wasn’t so heavily sedated”
David St Hubbins