Thirty years.

It’s hard to believe how old this film is now, such is the freshness, relevance and prescience of it all. There’s very little to be said about it that hasn’t been already. One thing that maybe stands out is that while on the surface it’s quite obviously an exemplary satire of the music industry and the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle, it’s also on a more subtle level a humorous attack on the fawning, sycophantic music documentaries that were prevalent at the time and not exactly absent today. The director Rob Reiner (this was the first film in what would become a remarkably varied career peaking with the likes of Stand By Me and The Princess Bride) plays the role of the main interviewer himself – named Marty Di Bergi, it’s a thinly-veiled dig at “Marty” Scorsese, who had only just made the legendary concert film The Last Waltz a few years before.

Much is also made of how the film was constructed from dozens of hours of improvised and ad-libbed material from the three leads (clearly no accident either, given that they would later make several films using a similar approach, generally quite successfully). Rumours abound that Reiner shot something like 40 hours or so of material and cobbled together his film from it – the latest DVD release includes what is probably the best of the unused material, until now only available via obscure fan-made bootlegs. When viewed in its entirety it’s like some kind of improv marathon, made all the more impressive by the way in which the three leads play all their own instruments (with some skill) and never, ever break character. It’s become the template for the whole mockumentary sub-genre, and deservedly so.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP
Brilliant Satire of its Subject Matter9
Brilliant Satire of its Own Medium10
Sailing So Close to the Truth that People Thought They Were a Real Band9
All the Extra Footage Viewable on the DVD9
I Can't Figure Out How to Give 11 out of 10 on This Scoring System6
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the female characters talk to each other
9Overall Score

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