‘Spinal Tap’ video fake rockumentary

By Mark McGowan

Everyone has seen the real thing—the “rockumentary” that relates the journeys of a rock band as they tour the country. It’s packed with on-stage footage, backstage conversations, airport delays and heated band arguments.

The most recent example was U2’s “Rattle and Hum”—now you get the idea. Well, your home video store has the same thing but with a cool twist. It’s fake.

“This is Spinal Tap” is the fictional rockumentary of a fictional British band, Spinal Tap, and is a gem for anyone’s VCR. Directed by Rob Reiner, who appears in the movie as its director, Marty DiBergi, it shows us the lives and times of the band as they tour America promoting their unreleased album “Smell the Glove.”

It’s easy to see where the makeup of the band came. Spinal Tap began as the Tempsmen during the British Invasion of 1964 and their sound and appearance was much like the Kinks. The band is lead by rhythm guitarist and lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and lead guitarist Nigel Tunfel (Christopher Guest), an obvious allusion to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

During the 60s, the band began as a tube-amp rock band and progressed to the psychedelic sound of the Love Generation, which spawned their only hit, “Listen to the Flower People.” When the movie begins, we find them in the 80s playing heavy metal to male teenage headbangers.

The tour is doomed from the start by malfunctioning stage props and because their album hasn’t even been released due to a controversial cover design. Audience sizes begin dropping until the band finds themselves amidst numerous gig and hotel cancellations.

Things get worse when St. Hubbin’s girlfriend, Jeanine, joins the tour. Jeanine, a zodiac-crazed woman who dresses like an “Australian’s nightmare,” has a strained relationship with both Nigel and the band’s manager, Ian, and connotes John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s association with the other Beatles.

When the album is finally released, it sports a black mirror cover on both sides—a move that angers only St. Hubbins and Jeanine, who feel it’s cursed the band. After a flawed performance of their Irish-sounding “Stonehenge,” Ian is fired and Jeanine takes over the tour.

By the end of the tour, the band is reduced to sharing bills with puppet shows in theme parks and Air Force base dances.

“This is Spinal Tap” features incredible acting by all—the images and characters created by McKean, Guest and Harry Shearer (who plays bassist Derek Smalls) are so convincing and real it is hard to believe there really isn’t a Spinal Tap.

The script strikes such an eerie chord of reality about life in a band it seems like the cameras are actually catching a working, touring band off stage. And, for a group of comic actors, the songwriting and performance is awesome.

Reiner shoots the band in restaurants, buses, hotels, planes, airports, gardens and even a stop at Elvis Presley’s gravesite. The three music videos (one of which could easily be on Classic MTV today) shown make you wish current artists would go to Reiner for help.