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April 14, 2011

This Is Spinal Tap - Classic Film Pick

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This-is-spinal-tap Although examples of the mockumentary genre existed before "Spinal Tap" this heavy metal comedy is considered an epitome of cinematic satire. Conceived and written by the comedy team of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and director Rob Reiner, the movie sends up the heavy metal music and lifestyle that permeated the globe in 1984 when the film was made. Reiner plays documentary filmmaker Martin Di Bergi, whose love of the British band Spinal Tap inspires him to document the band's 1982 American concert tour in support of their 15th album "Smell the Glove." During his straight-to-camera introduction Di Bergi calls his film a "rockumentary." It's a clue to the audience that everything that transpires occurs with tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

Sticking to a routine documentary format, Reiner intersperses jiggly-camera interview footage with "impromptu" social settings and live performance footage. During a limo ride with the band, their talkative driver oversteps his bounds by trying to engage the band in meaningful conversation about Frank Sinatra. An electric window that separates the front from the back seats goes up to passively silence the chauffeur. Humorous value judgments are made.

The cinematic hoax is so close to the ridiculous truth of the early '80s heavy metal scene that some audiences believed "Spinal Tap" was a real documentary. "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." That line, spoken by Christopher Guest's long-haired rocker amply sums up the comic tension the movie builds upon. Everything is saturated with detail. During a party scene, band mates David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) wear nearly matching herpes sores on their lips without comment. Still, the film's overriding strength lies in the band's backstory of expertly crafted songs that range from rockabilly through blues, and hippy folk songs. Their heavy metal songs contain musical and lyrical jokes galore. If the comic set pieces don't get you, comic performances of songs like "Big Bottom" and "Stonehenge" surely will.

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