This Is Spinal Tap
with guest Harry Shearer
American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood • Saturday, May 31
Twenty years ago Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner wrapped production on a film regarded as one of the funniest films ever made. Though it is not technically a musical, The American Cinematheque paid homage to This Is Spinal Tap at the end of its 2003 musical series, pulling out the old reel and dragging in Harry Shearer for a big screen viewing and Q&A.
I haven’t seen Spinal Tap in about ten years and never on the big screen, so the Egyptian Theatre’s massive venue made for a fresh look at one of the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest comedies — “or rockumentary, if you will.”
Even two decades later, it’s fucking hilarious. Unlike the sorry genre of rock ‘n’ roll it mocks, Spinal Tap has stood the test of time, improving with age. One could watch it today just to be reminded of the wretched styles, antics and sounds of hairy rock from way back. But it’s more than just a mockery of a scene and a band; Spinal Tap goes further, to take on the bogus attempts by films to chronicle Heavy Metal at the time.
The “rockumentary” format was executed so well that even today, knowing better, it is easy to forget you are watching a fake. The characters are so ridiculously believable it’s easy to sink in and go for the ride with Tap. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that the actors really were playing their own instruments. “There’s nothing funny about people playing instruments poorly,” said Shearer after the film. “The humor lies in the bad choices they make.”
A lot of talk about A Mighty Wind (a recent “folkumentary” project starring the lads from Spinal Tap) dominated the Q&A following the screening. Shearer joked that The Folksmen opened for Spinal Tap a couple years back, but now they’re on top with a Folksmen Summer tour.
Shearer also enlightened the audience about how Spinal Tap was turned down all over Hollywood, by The New Yorker and at box offices. “Eventually we were able to get revenge on every single person who rejected Tap,” joked Shearer. “They all came ’round begging for a sequel and we wouldn’t do one.”
Before getting the funding for the film, enough cash was scraped together to make a twenty-minute short based on Tap. “We didn’t have a budget for wigs then•we were using thrift store wigs,” explained Harry who went on to discuss how their piss-poor makeup artist super-glued a wig to his scalp!
Also in those early days, Harry toured with a British hair band for a few weeks to see what life on the road was really like. “I learned that the bass player liked to play with one hand as much as possible so he could keep his other fist in the air all the time!”
With limited theater runs, This Is Spinal Tap was rescued by home video and managed to become a cult-classic for music and film fans alike. This great work of fiction really deserves another look today.
Perhaps the film’s most enduring legacy is the fact that so many people have never gotten the joke and believe in the existence of the British rockers. It’s an extremely impressive feat, especially when one thinks of all the bands that have covered Spinal Tap songs over the years and all the times the band has been resurrected — with new drummers.
After twenty-odd minutes of relaxed questions from a moderator and the audience, and with applause hitting mark 11, Shearer promised that we still have not heard the last from Spinal Tap.