August 30, 2009

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Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean). Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest). This. Is. Spinal Tap. You can argue it’s the start of at least two filmmakers career. Rob Reiner, who was one of the best directors in the 1980’s, and found himself out of ammo by the time of the 1990’s. The other is Christopher Guest, with Waiting For Guffman and all the rest coming from them. If you think this movie doesn’t still hold up, you’re sadly mistaken. My review after the jump.

This is Spinal Tap movie image (6).jpgTap is a band that mutated through the 60’s into the hard ricking sounds of the 70’s, only to find themselves cresting over the hill in the early 80’s. Their music was critically reviled (though that could also be said of Led Zeppelin), they still had a fan base. But with their latest album, Smell the Glove, everything seems to be falling apart. Their manager is giving them a headache, and that is only exacerbated by the presence of David’s wife. When there album comes out it is all black, which leads to some confusion, but they tour anyway, as their venues keep getting more pathetic, and Nigel starts pulling away as David’s wife gets in the middle.

Told as a fake documentary, there is no fat in this film at all. At 82 minutes the jokes come at a great clip, but they’re mostly out of character. There was a time when every rock star would swear by this film as being gospel to all the headaches of being on the road, and all the troubles that come with it. And still this is one of the most quotable films ever made “There’s a fine line between clever and stupid” to “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'”

This is Spinal Tap movie image (7).jpgWhat always gets me about the film is how precise the parody is when it comes to the actual music. These guys aren’t bad, and they sound like a lot of early 80’s rock and roll. Big Bottoms isn’t that far removed from AC/DC’s Big Balls, though the timing may point to actual critique (Spinal Tap came out in 1984, Big Balls in 1981). But what they get so right is how transparent the puns are. And it’s brilliant to get someone to laugh at a joke that is so obvious that it’s funny.  This is still one of the funniest films ever made. It’s a perennial.

The Blu-ray is as good as its ever going to get. The film was shot on 16mm, and so the coloring is great, but it can only look so good. The soundtrack is in 5.1 DTS HD, and that’s great during the songs, but it’s a faux-doc, so there’s that. There’s also a Dolby surround track as well. Extras are intense. There’s a commentary by the members of Tap, but what keeps this release from being definitive is that it doesn’t include the two commentaries from the Criterion release, one with Rob Reiner, the other with McKean, Shearer and Guest out of character. Otherwise, there’s hours of content. “Catching Up with Marti DiBergi” (5 min.) has Reiner riffing in character about his career after the documentary, which is unsurprisingly sad. There’s fourteen outtakes (68 min.) that are almost as long as the film itself, along with the flower people press conference (2 min.) and an appearance on the Joe Franklin show (2 min.).

Missing from this appears to be the footage explaining where the boys got herpes, which did appear on the original Criterion release. There’s also four music videos, the Greatest hits collection faux video “Heavy Metal Memories” (2 min.) which includes tons of great fake song names, and the Cheese Rolling trailer for the film. There’s also three TV spots, and three commercials for a product called Rock and Rolls.A Stand def disc is also included with two supplements, a Live Earth performance from 2007 of Stonehenge (7 min.) and a Nation Geographic interview with Nigel Tufnel (8 min.). Excellence is defined by this disc.

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