AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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This Is Spinal Tap
Director: Rob Reiner (Dir)
Release Date:   1984
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 2 Mar 1984; Los Angeles opening: 9 Mar 1984
Production Date:   late 1982 in Los Angeles, CA
Duration (in mins):   86
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Cast: Starring Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel)  
  Starring Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins)  
  Starring Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls)  
  Starring Rob Reiner (Marty DiBergi)  
  Starring June Chadwick (Jeanine Pettibone)  
  Starring Tony Hendra (Ian Faith)  
  and Bruno Kirby (Tommy Pischedda)  
  Special appearance by Ed Begley, Jr. (John "Stumpy" Pepys)  
  Special appearance by Paul Benedict (Tucker "Smitty" Brown)  
  Special appearance by Zane Buzby (Rolling Stone reporter)  
  Special appearance by Billy Crystal (Morty the mime)  
  Special appearance by Howard Hesseman (Terry Ladd)  
  Special appearance by Patrick MacNee (Sir Denis Eton-Hogg)  
  Special appearance by Paul Shaffer (Artie Fufkin)  
  Special appearance by Fred Willard (Lt. Hookstratten)  
  Also starring R. J. Parnell (Mick Shrimpton)  
  Also starring David Kaff (Viv Savage)  
  Also starring Fran Drescher (Bobbi Flekman)  
  Also starring Joyce Hyser (Belinda)  
  Also starring Vicki Blue (Cindy)  
  Also starring Angelica Huston (Polly Deutsch)  
    Kimberly Stringer (Heavy metal fan)  
    Chazz Dominguez (Heavy metal fan)  
    Shari Hall (Heavy metal fan)  
    Jean Cromie (Ethereal fan)  
    Patrick Maher (New York M.C.)  
    Danny Kortchmar (Ronnie Pudding)  
    Memo Vera (Bartender)  
    Julie Payne (Mime waitress)  
    Dana Carvey (Mime waiter)  
    Sandy Helberg (Angelo DiMentibello)  
    Robin Mencken (Angelo's associate)  
    Jennifer Child (Limo groupie)  
    J. J. Barry (Rack jobber)  
    George McDaniel (Southern rock promoter)  
    Anne Churchill (Reba)  
    Paul Shortino (Duke Fame)  
    Cherie Darr (Fame groupie)  
    Lara Cody (Fame groupie)  
    Andrew J. Lederer (Student promoter)  
    Russ Kunkel (Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs)  
    Diana Duncan ("Jamboree Bop" dancer)  
    Gina Marie Pitrello ("Jamboree Bop" dancer)  
    Gloria Gifford (Airport security officer)  
    Archie Hahn (Room service guy)  
    Charles Levin (Disc 'n' Dat manager)  
    Wonderful Smith (Janitor)  
    Chris Romano (Little druid)  
    Daniel Rodgers (Little druid)  
    Fred Asparagus (Joe "Mama" Besser)  
    Rodney Kemerer (L.A. party guest)  
  and Robert Bauer (Moke) as

Summary: In 1982, British heavy metal rock band, Spinal Tap, arrives in New York City on a promotional tour for Smell the Glove , their first album in several years, and documentarian Marty DiBergi films them. In an interview with Marty, founding band members and childhood friends, Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins, describe their formation in 1964. Although they first called themselves The Originals, the musicians changed their name to The New Originals to distinguish themselves from another band with the same name, but later became The Thamesmen. Nigel, David and bass player Derek Smalls explain the strange deaths of their past drummers. At the tour’s opening night party, Spinal Tap is greeted by hostess Bobbi Flekman, an “Artist Relations” manager at Polymer Records, and she introduces them to the label’s president, Sir Denis Eton-Hogg. The next day, as Spinal Tap is chauffeured through the city, David demands to know when Smell the Glove will be released, but their manager, Ian Faith, dodges the question by mentioning a New York Times review. Ian claims that Polymer is focusing its distribution efforts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, instead of New York, because it is a “rock ‘n roll town.” At Fidelity Hall in Philadelphia, the band performs “Big Bottom” to a cheering crowd. Later, as the band attends a recording industry convention in Atlanta, Georgia, Ian again evades Spinal Tap’s inquiries about their album. Ian adds that the cancellation of their show in Boston, Massachusetts, is negligible because “it’s not a big college town.” Hosting another cocktail party for the band, Bobbi tells Ian that Polymer is offended by Spinal Tap’s record cover design, which portrays a naked woman on all fours, chained to a leash, with a glove shoved in her face. After a phone call from Eton-Hogg, Ian informs the band that the release of Smell the Glove has been cancelled because of its “sexist” cover. Bewildered, Nigel questions “what’s wrong with being sexy,” but Bobbi argues that Polymer has no leverage with big retail chains such as Sears and Kmart, who are boycotting the album, because Spinal Tap’s past records were not successful. Fielding Spinal Tap’s protests, Bobbi promises to work out a compromise with Eton-Hogg. At their next performance, Nigel complains to Ian about the snack food backstage. During the show, Nigel leans backwards playing a solo in the song “Hell Hole” and a roadie helps him to his feet. In an interview with Marty, Nigel shows the filmmaker his guitar collection and custom Marshall amplifiers that surpass the maximum volume of “ten” and “go to eleven.” At a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Spinal Tap discovers their reservations have been downgraded and, in the lobby, they are snubbed by fellow rocker, Duke Fame, who attracts the attention of girls David presumes are Spinal Tap fans. When Duke’s promoter brushes them off, Spinal Tap complains that the rocker’s album cover is just as exploitative as theirs, but Ian explains it is permissible because Duke is tied up as the “victim,” not the girls. Ian then announces that the Memphis show is cancelled because of “lack of advertising funds.” When Marty interviews Ian about the declining popularity of Spinal Tap, the manager argues that their “appeal is becoming more selective.” On a phone call with his girlfriend, Jeanine Pettibone, David conveys that more shows have been called off, but he is delighted to learn she will join them for the remainder of the tour. Nigel, however, is displeased by the news and becomes further downtrodden when a radio disc jockey plays a Thamesmen song and announces that Spinal Tap is in the “’Where are they now?’ file.” In an interview, Spinal Tap discusses their 1967 hit single, “Listen to the Flower People” and the spontaneous combustion of their drummer. During a sound check at Shank Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jeanine surprises David with her arrival and Ian presents the band with long-awaited, pressed copies of Smell the Glove . Displeased that the cover is devoid of an image, David complains that its color is depressing and Nigel says that it is “none more black,” but Ian encourages the musicians to persevere. However, Spinal Tap’s next show is besieged with absurd technical problems. In a Chicago, Illinois, Holiday Inn hotel room, the band meets the Midwestern promoter for Polymer, Artie Fufkin, but when he takes them to a record store album-signing event, no one attends. Later, at the Xanadu Star Theater in Cleveland, Ohio, the band gets lost backstage. At a diner, the band tells Ian that the black album cover has been a curse and, in an effort to improve their image, David presents Jeanine’s drawings for Zodiac sign costumes. Disparaging her ideas, Nigel uses a napkin to design a Stonehenge stage prop and Ian says he will have it constructed. Before the Austin, Texas, show, however, Ian realizes Nigel’s drawing specified a height of eighteen inches instead of eighteen feet, but he compensates for the discrepancy by hiring two little people to dance around the Stonehenge prop and the musicians are outraged. After the show, David berates Ian for turning their performance into a farce; and, when he suggests that Jeanine co-manage the band, Ian quits. During a recording session, Nigel blames David’s poor concentration on Jeanine and after the band arrives in Seattle, Washington, Nigel becomes more enraged when he learns she booked their concert at Lindbergh Air Force base. There, Lt. Hookstratten tells Spinal Tap that the base is celebrating an “at ease weekend,” but the audience is disturbed by the band’s performance of “Sex Farm.” When Nigel’s wireless amplifier picks up a radio feed, he throws his guitar down and storms off stage. Later, as Jeanine looks for Nigel’s replacement, David tells Marty that he will never again play with his lifelong friend. Spinal Tap arrives at Themeland Amusement Park in Stockton, California, to discover they are second billed to a puppet show and decide to improvise a set under the name “Jazz Odyssey.” At the end-of-the-tour party, David refuses to admit Spinal Tap is finished, but Derek suggests that they focus on different projects. Before the last show, Nigel appears backstage with a message from Ian. “Sex Farm” has hit the charts in Japan and Ian suggests the band re-form for a Japanese tour. Although David shrugs him off, he later invites Nigel to join him onstage while the band performs “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock It Tonight.” Despite radio interference on his amplifier, Nigel plays his trademark solo. At Kobe Hall in Tokyo, Japan, Spinal Tap performs for a sold-out audience with a new drummer. 

Production Company: Embassy Pictures  
  Spinal Tap Productions  
Distribution Company: Embassy Pictures  
Director: Rob Reiner (Dir)
  Cary Glieberman (Unit prod mgr)
  Donald Newman (1st asst dir)
  Irwin Marcus (2d asst dir)
Producer: Karen Murphy (Prod)
Writer: Christopher Guest (Wrt)
  Michael McKean (Wrt)
  Harry Shearer (Wrt)
  Rob Reiner (Wrt)
Photography: Peter Smokler (Dir of photog)
  Rod Blackie (Cam asst)
  Steve Green (Cam asst)
  James Quakenbush (Cam asst)
  H. J. Brown (Addl cam op)
  Rick Robertson (Addl cam op)
  Hector Ramirez (Addl cam op)
  Bob Carmichael (Addl cam op)
  Tom Geren (Addl cam op)
  Bill Meurer (Gaffer)
  Ben Batzdorff (Best boy)
  Victor Abbene (Elec)
  Jeff Smith (Key grip)
  Skip Cook (Grip best boy)
  Joseph Matlock (Grip)
  Richard Ocean (Concert lighting des)
  Kristin York (Unit photog)
Art Direction: Bryan Jones (Prod des)
  Bernt Capra (Asst prod des)
  James Maher ("Pop, Look & Listen" art dir)
  Gregory Boone (Logo & album cover des)
  Will Weston (Addl album cover des)
  Stan Harris (Addl art dir)
  Susan Rogers (Photograph album stills created by)
Film Editor: Robert Leighton (Supv film ed)
  Kent Beyda (Film ed)
  Kim Secrist (Film ed)
  Christine Cholvin (Asst ed)
  Miscut Enterprises, Inc. (Negative cutting)
Set Decoration: Tommy Estridge (Prop master)
Costumes: Reneé Johnston (Cost stylist)
  Lesley Nicholson (Ward asst)
Music: Christopher Guest (Mus & lyrics by)
  Michael McKean (Mus & lyrics by)
  Harry Shearer (Mus & lyrics by)
  Rob Reiner (Mus & lyrics by)
  Kenneth Karman (Mus ed)
  Patrick McDonald (Mus rec eng)
  Harlan Collins ("Cups & Cakes" arr, copyist)
  Christopher Guest (Mus performed by)
  Michael McKean (Mus performed by)
  Harry Shearer (Mus performed by)
  R. J. Parnell (Mus performed by)
  David Kaff (Mus performed by)
  John Sinclair (Addl keyboards and mus stylings)
  Ludwig Drums (Drums provided by)
  B. C. Rich (Thanks to)
  Zildjian Cymbals (Thanks to)
  L.A. Studios (Mus rec at)
Sound: Bob Eber (Sd mixer)
  John Brasher (Supv sd ed)
  Roberta Doheny (Sd eff ed)
  Beth Bergeron (Sd ed)
  Lars Nelson (Sd eff rec)
  Alia Kahn (Sd asst)
  Ocean Park Sound (Addl sd rec)
  John Reitz (Re-rec mixer)
  Dave Campbell (Re-rec mixer)
  Gregg Rudloff (Re-rec mixer)
  Doug Arnold (Concert playback op)
  Compact Sound Services (Post prod sd by)
Special Effects: James Beauchamp (Concert spec eff)
  CFI (Titles, opticals & color by)
Dance: Carol Kravetz (Choreog)
Make Up: Michele Payne (Hair & make-up supv)
Production Misc: Eve Brandstein (Casting)
  Marc Hirschfeld (Casting asst)
  Christal Blue Casting (Addl casting)
  Atmosphere (Addl casting)
  Star (Addl casting)
  Lindsay Doran (Exec in charge of prod)
  Anne Rapp (Continuity)
  Douglas Evan Stoll (Loc mgr)
  Derek Sutton (The real Ian Faith)
  Robert Bauer (Band road mgr)
  David Guerra (Roadie)
  Ralph Lee Moss (Roadie)
  Margaret E. Fannin (Prod coord)
  Jeff Stott (Prod controller)
  Leslie Cornyn (Asst prod controller)
  Jane Covner (Unit pub)
  Debbie Nodella (Prod secy)
  Vicki Hillman (Prod liaison)
  Bill Hankins (Prod liaison)
  Marsha Murphy (Post prod coord)
  Cathy Rosenstein (Post prod coord)
  Billy Arter (Transportation coord)
  Ed Hanna (Driver)
  Joe Johnson (Driver)
  Steve Turek (Craft service)
  Norman's Rare Guitars (Nigel's guitar collection courtesy of)
  Electrotec Productions Inc. (Concert sd & light services by)
Color Personnel: Art Tostado (Col timing by)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "Heartbreak Hotel," by Mae Axton, Tommy Durden and Elvis Presley, © Copyright 1956 by Tree Publishing Co. Inc., used by permission.
Composer: Mae Axton
  Tommy Durden
  Elvis Presley
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Embassy Pictures 13/6/1984 dd/mm/yyyy PA214454

PCA NO: 27121
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby Stereo® in selected theatres
  col:

 
Genre: Satire
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Bands (Music)
  Motion pictures, Documentary
  Music publishers and publishing
  Rock concerts
  Rock music and musicians
 
Subjects (Minor): Accidental death
  Aging
  Atlanta (GA)
  Austin (TX)
  Boston (MA)
  Buses
  Censorship
  Cleveland (OH)
  Collectors and collecting
  Disc jockeys
  Drums and drummers
  Dwarfs
  England
  Entertainers
  Fame
  Friendship
  Gloves
  Groupies
  Guitarists
  Guitars
  Hippies
  Hostesses
  Hotel managers
  Hotels
  Interviews
  Male chauvinism
  Managers (Entertainment)
  Memphis (TN)
  Military bases
  Motels
  Music fans
  Music stores
  Musical instruments
  Musicians
  New York City
  Parties
  Partnership
  Philadelphia (PA)
  Promoters
  Puppets
  Record producers
  Record stores
  Recording industry
  Rock and roll music
  Seattle (WA)
  Stonehenge (England)
  Tokyo (Japan)
  Voyages and travel

Note: The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Melissa Pope, a student at Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.

Before the opening credits, the film begins with an introductory statement by the character “Marty DiBergi,” played by director Rob Reiner. Marty, who is the fictional director of the rock music “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap , describes his appreciation for the British band Spinal Tap and says that his film follows their 1982 comeback tour to promote the album Smell the Glove . When Marty’s introduction concludes, the film opens with the following fake production qualifier: “This is Spinal Tap: A Rockumentary by Martin Di Bergi.” In the end credits, the character’s name is spelled “Marty DiBergi.”
       According to a 6 Mar 1984 Village Voice article, writer-comedians Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner came up with the idea to spoof a British rock band in 1978, while working together on The TV Show , Reiner’s television parody special for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Shearer told Village Voice that the actors “started adlibbing” the characters that would become members of the fictional band Spinal Tap while filming a satirical version of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) television music variety show Midnight Special . Before developing the film, the troupe wrote eleven songs and performed in concert with the band Iron Butterfly at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, CA, where, according to Shearer, they were taken “’at face value.’” He noted that they chose to portray a heavy metal band because the genre was “’ossified’” and “’easier to grab hold of comedically.’” Shearer added that heavy metal songs consisted of only three chords, which made them easier to write and perform. In a 21 Sep 2000 Guardian article, McKean noted that a year and a half after The TV Show was produced, Reiner was looking for feature film projects to launch his career as a director and pitched the idea of a “fake documentary” about the band to Marble Arch. As reported in a 25 May 1984 HR article, Marble Arch commissioned the troupe to develop the concept into a script, but instead they submitted a twenty-minute “demo” and an outline. McKean’s Guardian article stated that although the troupe met daily in 1980 to give Spinal Tap a “believable past,” watching rock music concert footage and documentaries, they never intended to write a script and planned to improvise the dialogue. Marble Arch tentatively agreed to produce the project, but the company went bankrupt and the troupe assumed the film was never going to be made. According to HR , United Artists expressed interest until its merger with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and eventually Embassy Pictures, which was run by Reiner’s former producers on the hit television show All in the Family , committed to the project. A 25 Apr 1984 NYT article reported the film’s budget was set at $2.2 million. In spring 1982, the filmmakers began to hire cast and crew, according to McKean, and principal photography began later in the year. NYT stated that due to the limited budget, the five cities represented in Spinal Tap’s U.S. tour were all filmed in Los Angeles. This Is Spinal Tap marked Reiner’s debut as a feature film director.
       As reported in a 23 Mar 1984 BAM article, director of photography Peter Smokler, who had previously worked on rock music documentaries such as Jimi Plays Berkeley (1974, see entry), used hand hand-held cameras and 16 mm film to accentuate the picture’s “documentary feel.” Studio production notes from AMPAS library files stated the film was later “blown up” to 35 mm for theatrical release. McKean told BAM that Reiner, in the role of Marty, posed unscripted questions to the members of Spinal Tap in the film and “the first time we’d heard them” was when the cameras were rolling. Editing was unusually challenging because of the improvisational dialogue. According to BAM , “whole sections” were cut, such as a subplot with rock singer Cherie Currie, who was cast as the band members’ love interest. BAM reported that the film’s release was supported by MTV videos and a soundtrack album from Polydor Records, This Is Spinal Tap , which represented the film’s soundtrack as well as the fictional record, Smell the Glove .
       As noted in various contemporary sources, including BAM and HR , the troupe wrote and performed the music in the film with the assistance of Reiner. A 25 May 1984 NYT news item commented that the band was playing “real engagements” such as a spot on Saturday Night Live and at the New York, NY, club, CBGB’s.
       The film’s end credits roll over outtakes of “interview” footage with Spinal Tap. The end credits also include the following acknowledgements: “We wish to thank the entire cast for their creative contribution to this film. Nigel’s guitar collection courtesy of Norman’s Rare Guitars; Concert sound & light services by Electrotec Productions Inc.; Drums provided by Ludwig Drums; Thanks to B. C. Rich and Zildjian Cymbals."
 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
BAM   23 Mar 1984   p. 10.
The Guardian   21 Sep 2000.   
Hollywood Reporter   25 May 1984   p. 13.
LAHExam   23 Feb 1984.   
Los Angeles Times   18 Dec 1983.   
Los Angeles Times   8 Mar 1984   p. 1, 7.
New York Times   2 Mar 1984   p. 6.
New York Times   25 Apr 1984   p. 20.
New York Times   25 May 1984.   
Variety   29 Feb 1984   p. 14.
Village Voice   6 Mar 1984   p. 54.

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