Before watching the movie:
Mockumentaries tend to be great or mediocre. CSA: The Confederate States of America was disappointing, but mostly because I didn’t expect the direction it took, and it had a much stronger message than I imagined. As a comedy, especially one that is a cult favorite over 25 years later, I expect good things from This is Spinal Tap.
I’m not much into heavy metal, but the point is satire, so it should be pretty good. Also there are a lot of big names and big non-names (you may not recognize the name Harry Shearer, but he’s one of the core actors on The Simpsons), so a lot of star power and star talent.
After watching the movie:
The loudest British rock band comes out of obscurity to semi-0bscurity, doing a comeback album and American tour. Along the way, they fight against audience apathy, canceled dates, the studio’s objections to their album cover, and their own stupidity and dueling egos.
Sometimes I think that the comedy mockumentary format should be limited to shorts (and certain half-hour sitcoms). With 90 minutes to fill, this movie sometimes seems to wander aimlessly. On the other hand, so did most real documentaries of its time, and lesser documentaries today. One problem I have with it is that they don’t seem to have the mix of pastiche and parody down. Sometimes they get so wrapped up in being a band that they forget they’re a parody. But when they’re funny, they’re extremely hilarious. For example, when the band starts a song emerging from cocoon-like setpieces, I predicted the last guy getting stuck, but I didn’t predict the lengthy series of events with the stagehands trying to get him out.
I always thought from the band’s look that if they were directly spoofing anyone, they were riffing on Metallica or the Rolling Stones. However, their history is definitely satirizing the Beatles, with their clean-cut (“The Thamesmen”) and flower child (“The Flower People”) phases. Even their present reminded me a little of the Beatles before they broke up, but the main way Jeanine causes tension in the band is by the manager refusing to co-manage with her. I don’t know music history well enough to name any specific bands that might be lampooned in that Spinal Tap has gone through half a dozen names and two or dozen members.
The music as well is a place where I often either don’t get the joke or they forgot to include one. Some of them are pretty funny, but some are just standard heavy metal rock songs. Maybe I don’t know enough music to get all the references, like how “Big Bottom” invokes “Fat Bottom Girls”. I understand the school thought that they need to be musically solid to carry funny lyrics, but sometimes I just don’t find the lyrics very funny. The one time I noticed the music itself trying to be funny, where a band member’s solo goes crazy, sounded dangerously close to being a normal non-funny crazy rock solo.
Where I liked it, I loved it. Where I didn’t, I was bored. I’m certain part of what was lost on me went over my head. This is a film for music geeks, and I’m not one of them.
Watch this movie: and not its many amateur “hey we’ve got a camera and some musical instruments!” imitators.
Don’t watch this movie: if you know nothing of 50s-80s rock.