I used to listen to Brett Goldstein’s Films To Be Buried With podcast when I was working. For those who haven’t listened to it, each episode was based around a series of film question that Brett put to his guest. It included the question “what is the funniest film ever?” Comedy is one of those genres that is so subjective, which is perhaps the reason why comedy films don’t have the same lasting appeal as dramas. Some comedies do have staying power but funny films tend to age quicker than straight films. There are only a handful of really important classic comedy films, so most people answering this question would pick more contemporary ones. Of course, the one major exception is This Is Spinal Tap. It was the film that was picked most often in this category. So, is Spinal Tap really the funniest film ever made?
There are plenty of people who will tell you that they believed This Is Spinal Tap was real the first time they watched it. The mockumentary was so understated and held back that it never crosses the line of absurdity. As a parody, it all works so well. None of the characters or situations ever feel as though they are too far away from prolific rock stars you’d see in the early 80s. There is a wonderful subtlety and attention to detail on display here that you can see how someone might be possibly deceived into thinking it was a real music documentary.
Well maybe if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s all so funny. There’s a reason that so much of this film is quoted and parodied so often. Pretty much every scene is iconic. The improvised dialogue has a natural feel to it but gives the actors room to play with their characters. The lines are quotable and memorable. Then there are the insane on-stage shenanigans. I mean, try and think about this film without thinking about the band getting lost backstage, Smalls being trapped inside an Alien-like pod, or the 18″ Stonehenge dropping from the ceiling. These are truly the high points of the film but it’s all the small details that really bring this together.
This Is Spinal Tap is not just the perfect parody of rock stars but it is also a perfect representation of the non-fiction film industry. It is a brilliant satire of the documentary film. It includes all of the stereotypical tropes. Those brilliant, old clips of the band members from their early days are perfect. The tone of the mockumentary mixed with the stupidity of the band come together to create movie magic that has never quite been matched. Christopher Guest and co. have made plenty of fake documentaries over the years but Spinal Tap still reigns supreme. This is a film that manages to feel as fresh and funny today as it will have done at the time.