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Unforgettable one-liners and legendary scenes that perfectly captured all the clichés of rock music. | Photo: The Kobal Collection
Unforgettable one-liners and legendary scenes that perfectly captured all the clichés of rock music. | Photo: The Kobal Collection
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TOP 5 Reasons Why "This Is Spinal Tap" is a Must-See

Director Marty DiBergi made this documentary about one of England's loudest bands, Spinal Tap, as they embarked on their fateful tour. It is the story of the most perfect mockumentary (a fictional documentary that pretends to be real) of all time. As you may have gathered, I am a huge fan of This Is Spinal Tap. After watching it, I couldn't take any rock or metal concert seriously anymore. I laugh up my sleeve and at myself when I start pretending to be a rock god on stage or experience firsthand all the clichés shown there. Here are five compelling reasons why you shouldn't miss this film either.

1. Real musicians

An often overlooked aspect of the film is the fact that the band members actually played their own instruments, they were real musicians. This adds to the realism of the onstage moments and allows the events to be captured naturally, without cuts to doubles and awkward imitations of playing instruments with playback. The actors are fully in the moment and aren't faking anything, which is a very subtle but essential difference between a real musician acting a scene and an actor pretending to be a musician, faking a musical performance.

In addition, the actors/musicians wrote the songs for the film, which adds even more credibility to their performances. These aren't just any, hastily patched-together songs but full-blown "hits" that could easily find a place in any rock or metal band's discography.

2. Improvisation

The strongest aspect of the film is the cast, which brings together an extremely charismatic group of characters. Especially impressive are the scenes that were created completely spontaneously during the filming. In fact, it seems incredible that most of the film was essentially improvised, with characters responding to obscure questions – for example, with stories about the mystical causes of the deaths of the Spinal Tap drummers: the first had a bizarre gardening accident, another choked on his own vomit (even though the other band members argued that it was on someone else's vomit), and the last one combusted while playing at a jazz blues festival. This scene is also very often quoted in music circles, and I just don't understand how the actors could have kept a straight face while spouting these divinely absurd lines.

Everything looks natural and authentic – the interviewer Martin "Marty" DiBergi played by Rob Reiner, singer/guitarist David St. Hubbins portrayed by Michael McKean. Also starring are Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls) and Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel. Billy Crystal and Fran Drescher appear in cameo roles, too.

3. Legendary one-liners

Probably the most impressive, funny and oft-quoted moment in the film is the line about the volume pots on the guitar amplifier: "The numbers all go to eleven." Guitarist Nigel Tufnel (brilliantly portrayed by Christopher Guest) explains to the filmmaker present that his special amp can play up to volume 11, as opposed to the standard ones with pots only going up to 10. When asked if it wouldn't be easier to just make a more powerful amp and leave the range of 1 to 10 on the pots, Nigel is slightly puzzled, but eventually counters with a sovereign, "This goes to 11!" As absurd as it is, it absolutely brilliantly captures the childlike soul of every rock guitarist.

This scene is the film's pivotal comedic moment and was so impressive that real-world sound equipment manufacturers like Sound Image, Soldano and Friedman added knobs on their amps that go all the way up to number eleven. This Is Spinal Tap is also the only film on IMDb that allows users to rate the film on a scale of one to eleven stars. One of the most important one-liners in the music business!

4. Realism

This Is Spinal Tap sticks to the rule that all good comedies actually strive for: characters are played with deadpan faces. They are not clowns who just create comedic chaos, but a group of believable characters reacting to funny or utterly absurd situations they are facing. Viewers laugh at their reactions to situations that all musicians know too well.

Spinal Tap manages almost flawlessly walking a tightrope between realism and awkwardness. For example, in the scene where the band gets lost in the cluttered backstage area trying to find their way on stage. Jimmy Page, Dee Snider and Ozzy Osbourne have all admitted to getting lost in the backstage corridors trying in vain to find the stage. In 1997, U2 found themselves inside a large lemon that they couldn't get out of. As in the scene where bassist Smalls got trapped inside a “pod” during a concert.

And the best bit at the end, Black Sabbath once commissioned a 15ft (about 4.5m) Stonehenge monolith, but they got a 15sqm monolith that was unusable because it was too big to fit on stage. In the Spinal Tap, there was also a Stonehenge scene, but in reverse – their monolith was grotesquely small for the stage. In both cases (in reality and in the fictional documentary) it was a confusion of feet and meters or inches and feet – simply a confusion about the metric system resulting in absurdly sized commissioned stage props.

5. Impact on the music community

When director Rob Reiner released This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, he raised the bar for the mockumentary genre to a new dimension and showed how it should be done. After the announcement that Spinal Tap II is to be released in March 2024 with the original cast, I'm extremely curious to see if it can even come close to the perfection of the revered original. After all, it has a cult status in the Anglo-American music community, and if you're in a studio, on tour or in any other professional musical situation, sooner or later you will surely hear one of the lines from This Is Spinal Tap.

If by chance you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend watching it and memorizing a few key scenes. Then, when you meet someone from abroad, you'll immediately have a topic for a warm conversation.

Tagy this is spinal tap spinal tap mockumentary music humour TOP 5

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.