Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This is Spinal Tap


The first debate in my current run for Animal Control Officer of the City of Beverly Hills was held this past week. Bob Mackie put together a brilliant red, white and blue outfit for me, sequins, bugle beads, lame - I was absolutely incandescent. Unfortunately, when the klieg lights hit me at the podium, the glare was such that I was completely unable to see the teleprompter. As I had not committed my speech to memory, I was somewhat at a loss. I am not a fabulous musical entertainer for nothing, however, so I decided to do a stirring rendition of 'I'm Writing a Letter to Daddy' from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? followed by a prolonged soft shoe. My opponent didn't stand a chance. No one in the studio audience cared a whit about his ideas on stray dogs after that performance.

Fresh from my triumph at the Pico Boulevard VFW hall, I came home to Norman, who had been watching the proceedings on Public Access Cable. Darling Norman was already well into celebratory mode with a bottle of Night Train mixed with Nyquil. We were in such high spirits that we decided a comedy of lights, camera, action, sequins and spandex was in order, so we retired to the home theater and put on This is Spinal Tap which has been re-released on DVD.

This is Spinal Tap is a film by Rob Reiner; it is constructed as a faux documentary about a fictitious heavy metal band fronted by Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) coming from England to America for yet one more tour. This mock-umentary chronicles their experiences from opening night in NYC through various problematic concert dates until they end up in California, second billed to puppet shows at low budget theme parks. The movie basically invented the comic documentary form, taken to further heights by Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show and is largely improvised from character and situation with little scripted dialogue.

The three principals (and Reiner playing the documentarian) are all brilliant comics and their earnestness at each new ridiculous situation makes the characters real and the movie constantly entertaining. It is, at times, uneven due to the improvisational style and occasionally hits a dead spot but the fast paced editing keep things moving along. It contains one of the funniest moments in the history of cinema when the band tries to incorporate a number on Stonehenge into their stage show but their set designer (Angelica Huston in an almost unrecognizable cameo) misinterprets their intent. It also helps that the principals are also fairly accomplished musicians and the songs stay true to the heavy metal genre while lampooning it in a very sophisticated way.

The DVD contains the full movie with an optional commentary track by McKean, Shearer and Guest in character as the band looking back from fifteen years later; the commentary, in some ways is funnier than the movie itself. The actors have grown into the characters so much that their interplay has become more hilarious with time. As a bonus, there's nearly 70 minutes worth of footage that was excised from the final cut of the film that gives a lot more fleshing out of many of the minor characters. It contains some priceless moments such as Bruno Kirby, as their chauffeur, getting stoned and singing in his underwear, rock groupies doing plaster casts of the bands' bottoms and the perils of autographing black album covers in black pen.

Mime catering. Herpes lesions. Malfunctioning stage pods. Gratuitous Fran Drescher. Cricket bat waving. Tambourine playing. Concept make-up sketches. Foiled cucumber.

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