Released here in a 25th Anniversary Edition, we take a peek at a hi-def Tap…
Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap has entered the pantheon of comedy movies that find themselves endlessly quoted by science students trying to prove that they have a sense of humour. I think the logic for this is that if it’s funny then the person repeating it word for word must be funny too. I am sure that you’ve experienced this in some form. Dead Parrots, “a pint that’s…” yadda yadda – more comic lines robbed of their subtlety and invention through robotic, uncomprehending repetition.
Originally meant as a spoof on earnest rockumentaries like The Last Waltz, Spinal Tap was pricking the bubble of pomposity created when musicians were venerated on film. It tells an absurd tale of a band that has lasted the ages and now seems to be on its last legs. A band that’s gone from Mersey beat to flower power to RAWK, giving the audience what they want. Putting on their show involves outrageous stagecraft, miniature stonehenges, and a foil wrapped cucumber positioned down some very tight trouser legs.
Their interviewer, played by Reiner himself, asks straight up questions and the band improvise funny responses. Verite footage is used to supplement the interview sections, and the camp is ratcheted up in the live performances. The gags rely on well known rock star silliness – lack of intelligence, the disposability of drummers and the meddling girlfriends.
Outside of the band everyone plays it understated and real, the casting is to type, and the straightforward narrative copies the seeming simplicity of documentaries of this type. There is little in the ways of bells and whistles, just a simple knowing pastiche of ageing rockers we have known and loved. And that’s your lot.It isn’t Wilderesque in its thoughts about humanity, or like Preston Sturges or Lubitsch in terms of mechanics or wit. Spinal Tap is a simple deadpan comedy, emphasising characters made up of bits and pieces of rock stars we have known. Some reliable chuckles and a broad grin are your reward for watching Tap. It’s still funny 25 years on, and that’s an achievement, but this is not the great comedy that some have claimed. It’s very quotable but it’s not Some Like it Hot or Sullivan’s Travels, in fact it’s not even Reiner’s best film. It’s funny, it’s still funny, but that’s about all as the rest of the film’s kudos is down to its cult status.
Tap is meant to look like a documentary and I believe it was shot on 16mm so perhaps too polished a transfer would not be appropriate but this does look soft and lacking in detail. In particular the exterior interview sequences look quite strange in the colouring, see the bushes behind our men below, and especially so in the detail of the same bushes. Faces throughout lack definition and I wonder if there’s been a little DNR used to clean up the image, although edges seem to have avoided any obvious enhancement. Certainly this looks a lot better than DVD releases I have seen of the film, but it’s a long way from perfect.Stereo and 5.1 HD options are included, and I preferred the DTS track for a little more in terms of bass and coverage although both are probably light years ahead of standard def tracks released before. The music and supposed live atmosphere come through well in the performance sequences and the use of surround channels is understandably more for coverage than a full three dimensional sound effect.
Tap is also available in a 5 disc limited edition that comes with a working ipod speaker designed like the Marshall amp in the film with some postacards not included here. This edition is part of that pack and if you want more details click the news item in the left hand column. This region B locked dual layer disc is 80% used with 19.3GB the size of the film’s transfer. The disc menu is narrated by the band and switchable between underwhelming and “up to 11” versions.
Dom Lawson presents an appreciation of the film with tons of British talking heads contributing. The likes of Ricky Gervais, Rob Brydon, Eddie Izzard and people from top beat combo Kasabian tell you how marvellous Tap are whilst Lawson reads from an autocue. If you want lots of famous blokes telling you you were right to buy this disc, this is the ideal documentary!
Next up and much more fun is Reg Pressley from the Troggs talking about the famous tape of his band bickering – “just play the f**king note” – and wondering about the inspiration to the similar rows in the film. The Return of Spinal Tap follows the band as they stage a gig back in Blighty, hosted by Sir Geldof, and explain in between songs about their roots and what they’ve been doing since the film in 1982(David taught soccer to 4 year old kids, Nigel has been “inventing” and Derek has concentrated on his dad’s phone cleaning business).
Nigel gives his views on Stonehenge to the Discovery Channel where he suggests it would liven up their output if they did more puppet shows in a short interview piece. There is then over an hour of outtakes with the band doing more sight seeing, playing tennis and managing groupies. Three TV spots and two trailers for the film are included too, along with the cod advert for a greatest hits called “Heavy Metal Memories” and the Cheese Roll alternative trailer(“instead of another suicide filled Scandinavian evening”).
The remaining featurettes include a black and white recording of a flower power era press conference, “water is a drug” apparently, 4 music videos, and various plugging featurettes for the DVD release of the film with the likes of Sting and Mick Fleetwood playing along with the gag. This release also features the commentary from the band which accompanied previous DVD releases which is done in character and concentrates on the “hatchet job” done by the director.
Lots and lots of extras, but all in standard definition.
It’s still funny but if you believe it’s comedy gold then there’s lots more here to enjoy. The transfer is OK but not one to show off your system with and I imagine true completists will be chasing down the Marshall Amp 5 disc set.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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