Thursday, March 23, 2017

This Is Spinal Tap

The National Film Registry goes up past 11. Obvious gag is obvious.

So, This Is Spinal Tap. One of the seminal documentaries of our time, though Marty DiBergi suffers from the usual problem of terrible sound editing. Do documentarians go to some sort of class to make sure that the interview sections of their films come out as hard to hear as possible? This being a "rockumentary", most would be grateful that the sound on the songs is pretty decent, but that is to be expected. Down to this day, Spinal Tap maintains their reputation as one of the loudest bands in England. But the story isn't particularly about the music - though that's clearly an important factor. After all, Spinal Tap have long served as a sort of cementing force in music: whatever new genre has become firmly popular, they will probably try it out, at least until their first complete break-up in 1992. Their 2009 album featured forays in reggae, funk, jazz, and Broadway musical, none of which is too much of a departure for the band.

The real story is on the interaction of the band's founding members, David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnell, as well as longterm bassist Derek Smalls. Sadly, Viv Savage only has a small part in the interviews, He's definitely got some talent as a keyboardist, but never seems to think of much to say without the medium of music. There's more interview time with Mick Shrimpton, who tragically died during filming. Derek Smalls may feel overlooked, as the "lukewarm water" of the group, but it's clear throughout the rockumentary that despite his loud, and often lewd, stage presence, the real Derek Smalls is a kind, thoughtful, and truly talented individual. Nigel Tufnell's music also gets many moments to shine, such as his playing of the first part of "Lick My Love Pump", which clearly draws influences from Mozart's immortal "Leck Mich Im Arsch". However, as of his last interview, Nigel Tufnell is still struggling to complete this piece. Which... well, Nigel Tufnell has never been considered one of the big thinkers of our age, despite the fact that he has a high level of musical talent, and a strong interest in experimentation (which may not turn out well, such as some of his more discordant solos, but the idea is there). Meanwhile, David St. Hubbins comes across as rather tactless and thoughtless. While Nigel may be a bit spoiled in the matter of backstage delicacies, David St. Hubbins, as the frontman, never seems to think a set sometimes calls for a change (memorably playing "Sex Farm" for a USAF mixer), or notices the problems members of the group are having personally. This was definitely exacerbated by the presence of his now-ex-wife, Jeannine Pettibone. Neither of them seem to be bad people, but they can be kind of oblivious people.

Varying bands, such as Nirvana, Dokken, The Misfits, and Metallica have all discussed the influence Spinal Tap, especially through the lens of the film, influenced their careers, while Aerosmith and U2 seemed to have members very personally affected by the travails of the band. If it weren't for the disastrous US release of Smell the Glove, Metallica may never have had the idea for the now iconic Black Album. While Spinal Tap can be derivative, they were sometimes ahead of their own time.

This is definitely a documentary to check out, and one that clearly deserves its preservation. While it has many of the problems that plague documentaries (grainy film, bad sound editing), it portrays a fundamentally honest and rather tragic picture of rock music from the 1960's through the 1980's, often recognized as a heyday of the genre. While Spinal Tap hasn't released any new material in 8 years, their dedicated fans can only hope that they still stand as mighty as Stonehenge, and have not broken like the wind.

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