It’s around about the sixth month into college life when you begin to accept that those people at parties quoting a movie called Spinal Tap, aren’t going to desist. You either live in blissful ignorance or succumb and watch the damned thing. The cult that has grown up around the movie makes it easy to overlook the fact that it is indeed very funny. Still.
Tap fans decreed last Friday, 11/11/11, as ‘Nigel Tufnel Day’ (do we need to explain why?). To mark the event, the august Brooklyn Academy of Music screened the movie, followed by a live Skype Q&A with Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls). The Observer dropped by.
The crowd was largely made up of ardent fans however, there were also a fair number of Tap virgins, “This is a little embarrassing,” said Matthew Goldman sheepishly, “I played in a band for 20 years and never saw the movie, everyone says ‘You’ve never seen Spinal Tap!’”
Mike Amato, at the other end of the spectrum, reported that he had “seen it first when I was a kid, I can recite every word.” He explained why it’s still so funny for him “I don’t think it would be as hysterical if they were mocking something they disdained, I think they secretly like the music they are lampooning.”
So the lights went out and the 16mm—shipped from France, o0h la la—was greeted by smiling faces from the first frame. Afterwards, an impressively faultless Skype feed projected two very large Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer heads, both as dryly funny as we expected. Those in attendance were so enamored after the movie that they gushed and laughed at almost every utterance or facial expression of both men.
When Guest confirmed that “it was virtually 99% improvised, no rehearsals, we’d just shoot”, some audience members actually gasped. The two had a tough time remembering the last time they’d seen the film, never mind their favorite moment. Searching the ceiling Guest said, “I haven’t seen this movie in a while,” before adding, to much laughter, “I could tell you my favorite moment in Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Shearer, rallying in his bathrobe—it was 2.30am for him in London—recalled his last time “It was when we recorded a commentary track in character for a DVD release… and it turns out they give awards for that sort of thing, so the only honor the movie’s ever gotten was for that commentary track.”
As for any scenes they weren’t particularly fond of? “The only scene I’ve ever hated in the film isn’t in the film per se. When Arty Fufkin comes to rouse us, he is supposed to be there to get us to a radio interview at 7 am, and we did shoot that radio station bit, and the guy who was the DJ just didn’t nail it and it was a painful experience because everyone else in the cast was doing one home run after another.” Later, when questions were thrown over to the floor, one wily questioner asked who played the DJ, “No, no” was the curt answer.
Shearer said the band was English because “It seemed to me a lot of the American bands were more stripped down and didn’t have the level of pretension the English bands had”
The reaction of real bands has been fascinating, he also recounted. “There were people [band members] who were deeply depressed, because it seemed real, which it was” said Shearer. Guest recalled, “The last instance of somebody getting pissed off was Liam Gallagher, who walked out of the film. Sorry.”
When the lights came up, a good number of elementary school kids—with very cool parents—became evident.
11-year-old Patrick Thomas, liked the movie, with his favorite part being “when the singer and guitarist fought.” Although, as an aspiring drummer, his nights may from now on be filled with nightmares of spontaneously combusting.
Asked if his mom forced him along, another attendee, the young William Hastings said, “No, I wanted to come! It’s just really funny, my favorite moment is Stonehenge.”
A whole new generation, it seems, is lined up to keep up the legacy of zealously quoting the film, and The Observer thinks that’s not such a bad thing.