|This is Spinal Tap (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 September 2000|
‘This Is Spinal Tap’ has been hailed in many quarters as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll movies ever. Never mind that this rockumentary is really a mockumentary and that the members of the British band Spinal Tap – Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls – are really the creations of performers/writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, respectively, along with co-writer/director Rob Reiner. The 1984 film holds up splendidly as timeless, keen-witted satire and solid head-banging silliness.
For those of you who’ve somehow missed it so far, wait no longer. ‘This is Spinal Tap’ is a hilariously detailed chronicle of a disastrous American tour by the ne’er-do-well musical group, who over a decade and a half of borderline existence have changed their act to suit current tastes. Their latest incarnation as the heaviest of heavy metal bands. Spinal Tap has captured the imagination of filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (Reiner), who has leapt at the chance to do a documentary on his idols.
Reiner, Guest, McKean and Shearer don’t miss a trick or a target, while still managing to convey great affection for this collection of dim bulbs and the milieu they inhabit. The acting and writing are brilliantly nuanced – the wilder the situation, the straighter the faces.
Despite or perhaps because of their shortcomings – the band’s staunch and utterly innocent inability to comprehend the difference between "sexy" and "sexist," their composition and performance of such deathless lyrics as "My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo/I love to sink her with my pink torpedo" and a collective sense of direction so warped that they become utterly lost between dressing room and stage – we feel for the Spinal Tap members in their moments of humiliation. There’s something endearing about the enthusiasm with which they put forth their ear-splitting music and plausibly authentic ridiculous lyrics. Besides, it’s impossible not to be fond of people who make us laugh this much.
The new ‘This Is Spinal Tap: Special Edition’ isn’t the first DVD release of the film. It’s almost enough to make a dedicated Spinal Tap fan go mental. ‘This Is Spinal Tap: Special Edition’ has nearly a gazillion special features on it. It’s got the only menu on any DVD that I’ve felt compelled to listen to all the way through, as the Tap members muse in their singular way about the viewer’s options; you’re chortling before viewing a frame of actual footage. Be sure to check out the language menu, which also have a few choice Tap observations in voiceover. The new disk comes with a feature-length commentary from Tufnel, St. Hubbins and Smalls, and a new onscreen interview (intercut with clips) with the older and wiser Marty Di Bergi. Bringing back the leads in the characters they created is a stroke of genius, and the seemingly effortless verbal riffs provide a virtual sequel to the film unspooling alongside it. There’s even an interesting, fairly effective attempt to give our narrators their own unique audio positions on the commentary track, with McKean as St. Hubbins left main/center, Guest as Tufnel right main/center, and Shearer as Smalls holding forth directly from center. The years-later dissection of the unfortunate Stonehenge prop in Chapter 25 is a particular highlight.
However, the new disk leaves out some of the goodies that were on the previous DVD release. Arguably, the most significant omissions are the audio commentary tracks by stars/writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer and by director/star/writer Rob Reiner as themselves, along with comments from producer Karen Murphy and editors Robert Leighton and Kent Beyda. The moral of this story would seem to be: if you’ve already got the old ‘Spinal Tap’ disk, hang onto it.
The new DVD comes with over an hour of material labeled on the menu as "outtakes." It’s unclear which of the scenes are actual outtakes – i.e., flubs – and which are simply scenes removed from the final cut. Nearly all of the material seems to have been cut in order to bring ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ in at a certain running time, rather than for lack of humor, as there’s nary a moment that betrays either the ingenuity or the spirit of the footage we already know and love. There’s also a "Flower People Press Conference," a very funny b/w bit which shows off an earlier, ‘60s-era incarnation of the Tap.
The DVD rocks out solidly on the big (and achingly funny) musical numbers, with Chapter 20’s concert scene a volume highlight. However, the rears seem to be simply loyally providing extra fill for the mains in the musical numbers, without given roles on their own; in the interview sequences, they simply go quiet. Picture quality, of course, is a little hard to evaluate, since ‘Spinal Tap’ aspires to the picture quality of the dead-serious documentaries it spoofs. The DVD faithfully reproduces the feature’s look of a genuine cheapie rock opus, (complete with tiny white scratches), while retaining an underlying professionalism.
Many subsequent rock parodies have attempted to follow in the sprocket holes of ‘Spinal Tap,’ but few have even approached its pitch of transcendent lunacy. ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ – accept no substitutions, and don’t part with your old DVD of it, either.