Rob Reiner is responsible for some of the greatest American comedies of the nineteen eighties. When Harry Met Sally put a new and exciting spin on the romantic comedy and The Princess Bride approached family adventure in a fresh and intelligent way. Misery and Stand By Me demonstrate his skill as a director of serious and sensitive material. The nineteen eighties was a busy decade for Reiner. He produced, arguably, his greatest works in this era. It is Reiner’s first cinematic creation, however, that remains his most insightful, original, intelligent and utterly hysterical. This Is Spinal Tap fooled many. With its realistic look at fictional British rock band ‘Spinal Tap’, Rob Reiner, put his mark on the mockumentary genre. Along with Woody Allen’s Zelig, Spinal Tap explored the possible parodies of the documentary genre, defining mockumentary and demonstrating its power as its own genre.
Improvisation is responsible for some of the most magical moments in This is Spinal Tap. Christopher Guest and Michael McKean hold up the film with Harry Shearer also complimenting the dialogue. In an interview with a giddy and star-struck Ricky Gervais, Christopher Guest explains that his inspiration for the character of Nigel came from his observations of a British bass player in an airport. Hearing his description of the encounter explains so much about Nigel and his portrayal of a British band member that fooled real musicians into believing it was a genuine documentary about a real band on tour. The detail of the performances play a huge part in the lasting aesthetic of This is Spinal Tap. Rob Reiner plays the director of the documentary; consistently amused and baffled by Nigel Tufnel, David St Hubbins and Derek Smalls. He becomes the narrator and the instrument that prises the answers and reactions from Spinal Tap. Reiner is the struggling film-maker, interviewing a struggling band. The story is ultimately a sad one, as the band face up to the end of a rock ‘n’ roll career. There is a sympathy felt for the characters that allows us to look past their selfishness, ignorance and foolery.
Almost thirty years later, This is Spinal Tap remains the parody film that all others must be compared to. The comedy lies in the reactions of the characters, their spontaneity, naturalism and believability. The wit of the dialogue is complimented by the visual comedy and the artistic genius of the band’s lyrics. Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean demonstrate the power that improvisation and naturalism have on a film and how crucial it is to a mockumentary. Get it wrong and your film will fail to amuse and excite your audience, get it right and your audience will thank you hugely. Make it perfect and what you have is magic; what you have is This is Spinal Tap, a timeless comedy that refuses to ever be matched – never mind beaten. Rob Reiner, despite many other successful and substantial ventures, has never managed to outdo his first and his greatest work.
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