This Is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap
This Is Spinal Tap

2000 theatrical rerelease poster
Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by Karen Murphy
Written by Christopher Guest
Michael McKean
Harry Shearer
Rob Reiner
Starring Rob Reiner
Michael McKean
Christopher Guest
Harry Shearer
Fran Drescher
Bruno Kirby
Music by Christopher Guest
Michael McKean
Harry Shearer
Rob Reiner
Cinematography Peter Smokler
Editing by Robert Leighton
Distributed by Embassy Pictures
Studio Canal
Release date(s) March 2, 1984 (1984-03-02)
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,736,202[1]

This Is Spinal Tap (officially spelled This Is Spın̈al Tap, with a non-functional umlaut over the letter nn-diaeresis—and a dotless letter i) is an American 1984 rock musical mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner about the fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap. The film satirizes the wild personal behavior and musical pretensions of hard rock and heavy metal musical bands, as well as the hagiographic tendencies of rock documentaries of the time.

Reiner and the three main stars are credited as the writers of the film, based on the fact that much of the dialogue was ad libbed by them. Several dozen hours of footage were filmed before Reiner edited it to the released film. A 4½ hour bootleg version of the film exists and has been traded among fans and collectors for years.[2]

The three core members of Spinal Tap—David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls and Nigel Tufnel—are played by the American actors Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, and English-American actor Christopher Guest, respectively. The three actors play their musical instruments and speak with mock English accents throughout the film. Reiner appears as Marty DiBergi, the maker of the documentary. Other actors in the film are Tony Hendra as the group manager Ian Faith and June Chadwick as St. Hubbins' interfering girlfriend Jeanine. Actors Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Drescher, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Ed Begley, Jr., Patrick Macnee, Anjelica Huston, Vicki Blue, Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal all play supporting roles or make cameo appearances in the film. Scream queen starlets Brinke Stevens and Linnea Quigley appear in cameos as groupies of the band.

In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.



Stylistically the movie is a parody of rock documentaries, purportedly filmed and directed by the fictional Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner). The faux documentary covers a 1982 United States concert tour for the fictional British rock group "Spinal Tap" to promote their new album Smell the Glove, but interspersed with one-on-one interviews with the members of the group and footage of the group from previous points in their career.

The band was started by childhood friends David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) during the 1960s. Originally called "The Originals", then "The New Originals" to distinguish themselves from the existing group of the same name, they settled on the name "The Thamesmen", finding success with their skiffle/R&B single, "Gimme Some Money". They changed their name again to "Spinal Tap" and enjoyed limited success with the flower power anthem, "Listen to the Flower People". Ultimately, the band found their long success in heavy metal and produced several albums. The group was eventually joined by bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff), and a series of drummers, each of whom mysteriously die under odd circumstances, including spontaneous human combustion, a "bizarre gardening accident" and, in at least one case, choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown ("you can't dust for vomit"); of the death of one of whom the police said "this is a mystery better left unsolved". DiBergi's interviews with St. Hubbins and Tufnel reveal that they are competent composers and musicians, but are dimwitted and immature. Tufnel, in showing his guitar collection to DiBergi, reveals an amplifier that has volume knobs that go to eleven; when DiBergi asks, "Why not just make ten louder and make that the top?" Tufnel can only reply, "These go to eleven." Tufnel later plays a somber quasi-classical composition on piano for DiBergi, claiming it to be a "Mach piece" (a hybrid between Mozart and Bach), before revealing the composition to be entitled "Lick My Love Pump".

As the tour starts, concert appearances are repeatedly canceled due to low ticket sales. Tensions continue to increase when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove because of its sexist cover art and there is growing resentment shown towards the group's manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). Tufnel becomes even more perturbed when St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick) — a manipulative yoga and astrology devotee — joins the group on tour, begins to participate in band meetings, and attempts to influence their costumes and stage presentation. The band's label, Polymer Records, opts to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover without consulting the band. The album fails to draw crowds to autograph sessions with the band.

Tufnel (Guest) during the Stonehenge scene

To rekindle interest, Tufnel suggests staging a performance of "Stonehenge," an epic song that is to be accompanied in concert by a lavish stage show, and asks Ian to order a giant Stonehenge megalith for the show. However, Tufnel, rushing a sketch on a napkin, mislabels its dimensions, using a double prime symbol instead of single prime. The resulting prop, seen for the first time by the group during a show, is only 18 inches high (instead of the intended 18 feet), making the group a laughing stock on stage. The group accuses Faith of mismanagement, and when St. Hubbins suggests Jeanine should co-manage the group, Faith quits in disgust.

The tour continues, rescheduled into smaller and smaller venues. Tufnel becomes marginalized by Jeanine and St. Hubbins. At their next gig (at a United States Air Force base) Tufnel is upset by an equipment malfunction and leaves the group in the middle of a show. In their next gig, in an amphitheater at an amusement park (second-billed behind a puppet-show), the remaining members are forced to perform fusion-esque experimental music for lack of Tufnel's material.

At the last show of the tour, as the group considers venturing into a musical theatre production on the theme of Jack the Ripper, Tufnel returns and informs them that while their American reception is poor, the group is wildly popular in Japan, and that Faith would like to arrange a new tour in that country. The group likes the idea, letting Tufnel back into the band for their final performance. Despite losing their drummer Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell) as he explodes on stage, Spinal Tap ends up enjoying great success on their Japanese tour.



This Is Spinal Tap was only a modest success upon its initial release. Audience feedback cards from early screenings had comments such as "Too shaky. Get new cameraman."[citation needed] However, the film found greater success, and a cult following, after it was released on video.

Since its release, This Is Spinal Tap has received universal acclaim from critics[3] and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1984.[4][5][6][7] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 stars out of 4 and wrote "This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest, most intelligent, most original films of the year. The satire has a deft, wicked touch. Spinal Tap is not that much worse than, not that much different from, some successful rock bands."[8] Ebert later placed the film on his ten best list of 1984.[9] The film currently holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[10] In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[11]

Critics praised the film not only for its satire of the rollercoaster lifestyles of rock stars but also for its take on the non-fiction film genre. David Ansen from Newsweek called the film "a satire of the documentary form itself, complete with perfectly faded clips from old TV shows of the band in its mod and flower-child incarnations" (qtd. in Muir 31)[12]

Even with cameos from Billy Crystal and Patrick Macnee, Spinal Tap still managed to trick many of its moviegoers into believing the band existed. Reiner admits "when Spinal Tap initially came out, everybody thought it was a real band... the reason it did go over everybody's head was that it was very close to home" (qtd. in Yabroff par. 1).[13]

The cover for Shark Sandwich, one of the band's earlier fictional albums

The movie cut a little too close to home for some musicians. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Dee Snider and Ozzy Osbourne all reported that, like Spinal Tap, they had become lost in confusing arena backstage hallways trying to make their way to the stage.[14][15][16] Singer Tom Waits claimed he cried upon viewing it and Eddie Van Halen has said that when he first saw the film, everyone else in the room with him laughed as he failed to see the humor in the film. "Everything in that movie had happened to me," Van Halen said.[citation needed] When Dokken's George Lynch saw the movie he is said to have exclaimed, "That's us! How'd they make a movie about us?"[17] Glenn Danzig had a similar reaction when comparing Spinal Tap to his former band The Misfits saying, "When I first saw Spinal Tap, I was like, 'Hey, this is my old band.'"[18]

On Pete Townshend's 1985 album White City: A Novel, the back cover describes Pete Fountain, a "famous guitarist" visiting the title location, as seen by an old childhood friend. When Pete mentions an incident where his drummer complained that "the caviar in their dressing room was the wrong viscosity - for throwing," the friend notes "This is Spinal Tap is obviously a true story."

Lars Ulrich told a press conference crowd that the Metallica/Guns N' Roses 1992 tour seemed "so Spinal Tap." This tour was in support of Metallica's own "black album". Shortly after the tour started, Metallica's James Hetfield suffered third degree burns on his arms after he stood too close to a pyrotechnic device. Earlier in that tour, backstage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Show, Metallica met with Spinal Tap and discussed how their "black album" was an homage to Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove. This was captured on the Metallica DVD A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica.

According to a 1997 interview in Spin magazine with Aerosmith rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, "The first time Steven [Tyler] saw it he didn't see any humor in it." When the movie was released, Aerosmith's most recent album, Rock in a Hard Place, depicted Stonehenge prominently on the cover.

It became a common insult for a pretentious band to be told they were funnier than Spinal Tap. As George Lynch put it, the more seriously a band took themselves, the more they resembled Spinal Tap.[17] After seeing a 1986 performance by British metal band Venom, singer Henry Rollins compared them to Spinal Tap.[19] In their respective Behind the Music episodes, Quiet Riot's Rudy Sarzo and Ratt's Robbin Crosby compared their own bands to Spinal Tap to some extent. For example, as a parallel to the "Shit Sandwich" incident, Quiet Riot's fourth album Condition Critical was given the two-word review of "Condition Terminal" by J. D. Considine in Musician magazine. His review of the short-lived band GTR's eponymous debut LP in the same magazine was "SHT." R.E.M.'s Mike Mills described early tours as "very Spinal Tap", citing, among other things, the fact that they had indeed played at a United States Air Force base. According to Harry Shearer in the Criterion edition DVD commentary, keyboard player John Sinclair had just returned from touring with Uriah Heep when principal photography was about to begin, and told them how they had been booked to play an airforce base. They subsequently used the story in the film.

U2 guitarist The Edge said in the documentary It Might Get Loud that when he first saw Spinal Tap "I didn't laugh, I cried," because it summed up what a brainless swamp big-label rock music had become.[20]

In 2008, Empire magazine ranked This Is Spinal Tap number 48 on its list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[21] The New York Times also placed the film on their list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[22] In January 2010, Total Film placed This Is Spinal Tap on its list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.[23] When Entertainment Weekly compiled their list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, the publication included the film as "just too beloved to ignore".[24] In 2011, Time Out London named it the best comedy film of all time.[25]

American Film Institute recognition

Home video release

This Is Spinal Tap has been released twice on DVD.

The first release was a 1998 Criterion edition which used supplemental material from the 1994 Criterion Laserdisc release. It included an audio commentary track with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer; a second audio commentary track with Rob Reiner, Karen Murphy, Robert Leighton and Kent Beyda; 79 minutes of deleted scenes; Spinal Tap: The Final Tour, the original twenty-minute short they shot to pitch the film; a mock promo film, Cheese Rolling; a TV promo, Heavy Metal Memories; and a music video, "Hell Hole". Sales of this edition were discontinued after only two years and the DVD has become a valuable collector's item. Much of this material had appeared on a 1994 CD-ROM by The Voyager Company that included the entire film in QuickTime format.

In 2000, MGM Home Entertainment released a special edition with new supplemental material. It has a new audio commentary track with Guest, McKean and Shearer performing in character throughout, commenting on the film entirely in their fictional alter-egos, and often disapproving of how the film presents them; 70 minutes of deleted scenes (some of which were not on the Criterion DVD); a new short, Catching Up with Marty DiBergi (where it is revealed that the members of Spinal Tap were very disappointed in DiBergi for making a "hatchet job" of their film); a shorter version of Cheese Rolling; the Heavy Metal Memories promo and six additional TV promos; music videos for "Hell Hole", "Gimme Some Money", "Listen to the Flower People" and "Big Bottom"; segments of Spinal Tap appearing on The Joe Franklin Show; and the theatrical trailer. The special features were produced by Automat Pictures. However, this version of the film was missing the subtitles that appear throughout the film (for example, introducing band members, other personnel, and location names) and did not include the commentaries from the Criterion edition. The MGM DVD is missing the subtitles burned into the film; they have been replaced with player generated subtitles.

A 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc release was released on July 28, 2009. It includes all bonus features from the MGM DVD plus an interview with Nigel about Stonehenge and the band's Live Earth performance. It does not include the commentaries from the Criterion Collection DVD, even though MGM had stated that they would be included in the earliest press release for the Blu-ray version (most likely due to legal issues). Additionally, it does not include the promised "create your own avatars" features. However, this version does restore the subtitles that introduce band members/locales/events/etc. that were missing from MGM's DVD.

On IGN, This Is Spinal Tap was the only DVD—and seemingly the only thing reviewed on IGN—to get 11 out of 10, though this is a joke in reference to the memorable scene in the film.[29] Similarly, IMDB currently rates the film as eight out of eleven, rather than ten.

Related works

  • Break Like the Wind (1992) Album
  • A shorter made-for-TV sequel, The Return of Spinal Tap, was released in 1992 to promote Break Like the Wind. It consisted mostly of footage from an actual Spinal Tap concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It featured an appearance by The Folksmen, a fictional folk music trio also created/performed by Guest, McKean and Shearer.
  • This is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion (ISBN 0-7475-4218-X) was published in 2000. It featured a "Tapistory", full transcript of the film (including out-takes), a discography, lyrics and an A-Z of the band.

See also


  1. ^ "Box Office Information for This Is Spinal Tap". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 5, 2010. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "This Is Spinal Tap Movie Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1984". AMC Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  5. ^ "The 10 Best Movies of 1984". Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  6. ^ "The Best Movies of 1984 by Rank". Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1984".,1984&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  8. ^ "This Is Spinal Tap Movie Reviews". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to Present". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  10. ^ "This Is Spinal Tap Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  11. ^ "This Is Spinal Tap: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  12. ^ Muir, John (2004). Best in Show: The Films of Christopher Guest and Company. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. pp. 31. 
  13. ^ Yabroff, Jennie (2009). The Real Spinal Tap. Newsweek. 
  14. ^ see the notes for Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978, Rhino Records, 2002
  15. ^ Q&A: Robert Plant : Rolling Stone
  16. ^ Paul Du Noyer, “Who the hell does Jimmy Page think he is?”, Q magazine, August 1988, p. 7.
  17. ^ a b Konow, David (2002). Bang Your Head. Three Rivers Press. pp. 216–217. ISBN 0-609-80732-3. 
  18. ^ Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore. Feral House. pp. 207. ISBN 0-922915-71-7. 
  19. ^ Rollins, Henry, Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag, 2.13.61 Publications, 1994
  20. ^ "'It Might Get Loud' Movie Review: Documentary Puts Three Guitar Gods Center Stage". New Jersey On-Line. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Retrieved June 11, 2010. 
  22. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  23. ^ "Total Film features: 100 Greatest Movies of All Time". Total Film. Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time". Entertainment Weekly. Published by AMC Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  25. ^ "100 Best Comedy Movies". Time Out London. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs". American Film Institute. Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes". American Film Institute. Retrieved August 23, 2010. 
  29. ^ IGN: This is Spinal Tap DVD

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Spinal Tap — es un grupo semificticio de heavy metal creado en 1984 a partir de la película documental This Is Spinal Tap, considerada como una de las películas de culto con más seguidores de la historia. El grupo existe tanto en la ficción, en que sus… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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