Heavy metal rock act Spinal Tap have the reputation of being one of Britain's loudest bands. To promote their latest album Smell the Glove, they go on a tour of America, closely followed by film maker Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner) who is making a documentary, if you will, "rockumentary" on the band. However, led by guitarists Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and David St Hubbins (Michael McKean), and assisted by bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), Spinal Tap are heading heroically into disaster.
Inspired by Martin Scorcese's respectful music document The Last Waltz, writers Guest, McKean, Reiner and Shearer built on the painfully reverential style of that film to create, with much improvisation by the cast, an inspired spoof of the antics of hard rock acts. The background is carefully assembled, with superb parodies of songs and an all-too-believable string of jokes and situations that seem so accurate that some people reputedly believed Spinal Tap was genuine when this was first released.
The band have a history that takes in all the important points of the British rock scene illustrated by archive footage - they start out as pop beat group the Thamesmen, then turn psychedelic in the late sixties, until their incarnation as metal gods, taking in a bit of prog and folk-influenced rock for good measure (and a skiffle song is mentioned as their first effort!). So there's references to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, all the top British rock acts, but with Spinal Tap there's a difference...
Which is that, as the film draws on, you realise that Spinal Tap are past their prime, and don't have the following they once enjoyed in their heyday - if indeed they had one at all. Their album cover is withdrawn for being too offensive and replaced with a totally black cover ("None more black"), concerts are cancelled, and eventually their manager walks out on them when David's girlfriend tries to take over (with much use of astrology). They reach their lowest ebb when Nigel quits and the remaining members are reduced to playing an amusement park ("Puppet Show and Spinal Tap").
If this sounds tragic, then it is. You really feel sorry for the guys when they hear one of their oldies played on the radio only for the DJ to announce that Spinal Tap are currently residing in the "Where are they now?" file. But what redeems the film is the string of hilarious lines and ridiculous situations: the bungled "Stonehenge" routine, the unreliable pods they emerge from during their act, getting lost on the way to the stage, or the face to face interviews where the band offer their observations and detail their history, including the bad luck they have with their drummers dying off ("He exploded on stage").
This acutely observed comedy has now passed into legend, with many of the send ups of rock clichés becoming clichés themselves. And it is surely the most quotable cult movie of them all: "It's one louder," "Shit sandwich," "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever," "Lick My Love Pump," and so on. For all their idiotic pretensions - perhaps because of them - it's hard not to like these preposterous rockers, and the movie's reputation as one of the funniest of all time is unshakeable. Songs include "Big Bottom", "Hell Hole" and "Heavy Duty Rock and Roll".