as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
Rock of ages, keep on rollin.’ When was the last time you feasted your eyes on a pair of red leather trousers stuffed with a giant zucchini? Attended a rock show where all the amps were turned to eleven? Probably far too long. You probably don’t even have your long shaggy hair anymore, having sacrificed it when “alternative” musicians started poking their pointy, punk rock locks all over MTV. But I know. I know you like heavy metal. And I know you remember the power and the glory of the loudest band on the planet. Spinal Tap.
When it was first unleashed in 1982, Rob Reiner’s ridiculous rock-u-mentary chronicled every stupid detail and convention of the world of hard rock: Groupies. Midwestern radio suck ups. Obscene album covers and sexist lyrics. Spontaneously combusting percussionists and pseudo-mystical stage props. Plenty of real-life rockers, from Eddie Van Halen to Ronnie James Dio didn’t find it funny, and said so. Just too close for comfort, you could say, from the too-small Stonehenge stage prop to the pains of declining popularity. Absolute perfection.
The story begins when a would-be director (Rob Reiner) decides to follow the English band around during their first tour of the States in six years. Here to promote their new album, Smell the Glove, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) tramp through press junkets and faceless hotel rooms, having to contend with canceled gigs, a back-peddling record label and the probing, ever-present camera. After 17 years together and almost as many albums, it begins to dawn on them that their time in the sun might be over, especially when Hubbins’ new agey wife suggests an image make-over and joins them on the road. (Let’s not even go into the rock musical based on Jack the Ripper.) When asked why Tap is now filling 1200 seat halls when they used to sell out 15,000 seat arenas, one of Tap’s handlers replies, “They audience isn’t getting smaller; their appeal is just getting more selective.”
Almost two decades after its initial release, This is Spinal Tap is being re-released in theaters, and in the midst of a full-blown hesher revival, no less. (Look for Mark Wahlberg to star in the upcoming Metal God, a fairy story about a tribute band singer who lands the spot as lead screamer in his favorite band.) Almost nothing about this movie seems outmoded (there was a time long ago when the concept of regional radio programming existed–can you imagine?), even though memories of Bic-lit rock shows may seem far away. This is Spinal Tap is head-explodingly perfect.
But it’s okay! You can now listen to Iron Maiden without being laughed at by your friends. And you can drag that Judas Priest tour jersey out of the closet and wear it with pride. And if you can’t drag your sorry butt to a theater, MGM has thoughtfully re-released Tap on video and DVD, which features over an hour of additional scenes, as well as a new transfer and an audio commentary by the band. Just remember, there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.