This Is Spinal Tap is a 1984 film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Michael McKean (St. Hubbins), Harry Shearer (Smalls), and Christopher Guest (Tufnel). It is shot in a documentary style with Rob Reiner not only being the acutal director of the film but also the fictional director of the mockumentary. Upon release, Spinal Tap did not see huge success with audiences however it earned high praise from critics. The film was so faithful in its portrayal of rock and roll, record labels, and the over sized personalities that make up rock and roll bands that many moviegoers were convinced they were seeing an actual documentary rather than a film meant to satire an industry and the people in it. Spinal Tap remains a highly regarded film and has made a number of AFI best of lists as well as numerous other best of lists from other publications. So does this realistic mockumentary deserve to be counted among the classics?
Should this film be considered a classic? Yes, it most definitely should. I saw this film for the first time when I watched it for this review. Even though I was watching it almost thirty years after it was initially released I still had to remind myself that what I was seeing was indeed fiction. Perhaps that is why I’m so quick to give this film the “classic” label. It is satire done right. Satire done right is often very close to real life and is often painfully funny. Spinal Tap is definitely painfully funny because it looks and feels so much like what you’ve seen and read about rock and roll culture. The Wikipedia article I link to above contains a number of quotes from influential rock stars about how the film made them cringe because of how realistic it was. Not only that, but the acting is absolutely pitch perfect. You will believe you are watching rock stars and not actors playing rock stars. The camera work is also excellent and sells the hand-held/insider documentary feel.
Would I own this film? Unfortunately not. While I really appreciate how good this film is and recognize that it is indeed a classic, I think that my one viewing will probably be enough. The rock and roll culture is a bit too vulgar for me to want to endure more viewings despite the great artistic achievement that the film is.
Here’s one of the greatest scenes from the film. “These go to eleven!”