Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Short Take: This Is Spinal Tap

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Director Rob Reiner’s first feature, This Is Spinal Tap (1984), is a near inspired piece of satire. In the guise of a “rockumentary” about a fictional British heavy-metal band, it pillories the AOR (album-oriented rock) music scene of the 1980s. Reiner hilariously lampoons almost everything related to his subject: the crassly squandered musical talent; the ridiculous efforts of the aging members to maintain the Dionysian appeal of their younger days; and the absurdly pretentious flash and gimmickry of both their image and stage performances. (The only thing missing is a swipe at music video.) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer, who play the band members (and who co-wrote the film’s script with Reiner) are just about perfect. Spinal Tap is all but indistinguishable from the period's other dinosaur rock bands. But as on-the-mark as the film is, it has also become dated. The pop-music milieu of the '80s was quite different from what followed in the 1990s and 2000s. A major change was that acts were invariably sidelined before they became embarrassing to people their own age. If the viewer wasn’t there to see the pop-culture environment the film depicts, one may find the picture more than a little silly. Or maybe not: the talent-show world of today makes what the film depicts seem dignified. Reiner appears as the director of the film within the film.

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